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Crews Nearly Finished Clearing Debris From Basements At East Harlem Explosion Site

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NEW YORK(CBSNewYork) — The investigation into the East Harlem explosion that caused two, five-story buildings to collapse, killing eight people, is on the verge of taking major steps forward.

As 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported, Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said Saturday crews were nearly finished removing debris from the basements of both of the buildings.

“We are in the process of removing the debris from the rear of the building, the basement. And we’re going to do a quick search down there and try to get — as quickly as possible — that cleaned up. And then we’re gonna moving back toward the front of the building, moving the debris,” Cassano said.

The goal is to clear away debris surrounding the gas meters so that fire officials, Con Edison and the National Transportation Safety Board can inspect the area and find out more about what caused the explosion, WCBS 880’s Jim Smith reported.

Footage from security cameras mounted across the street from the two buildings showed just how powerful the force of the explosion was. Seconds before the disaster, windows from a nearby building shattered and almost knocked a bystander to the ground as he ducked for cover.

A cloud of smoke rose as concrete, brick, wood, and metal fell to the ground.

Once crews remove the remaining rubble the NTSB and Con Edison can begin conducting tests to determine the source of the suspected gas leak, CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported.

“We’ll have it all cleared so we can get to the basement to start our investigation,” Cassano said.

“We want to determine how long a leak may have been there,” NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt’s comment comes in the wake of  tests that confirmed abnormal levels of natural gas in the soil hours after the blast had happened.

Dozens of residents from nearby buildings remain displaced by the blast.

“It’s scary to think that, because if it happened there it could happen in any building. It’s definitely something to think about,” Marvin Urena said.

Ursula, who is among the 100 people displaced, told WCBS 880’s Monica Miller she hopes to move back into her home next week.

“There’s still glass in my apartment from when the window got blown in. The smell has dissipated a lot,” Ursula said.

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