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Families In Other Tragedies: Con Edison Has Been Negligent For Too Long

Joe Oza, whose mother was killed in a 2007 gas explosion, speaks at a news conference on March 19, 2014. He is accompanied by attorneys Derek Sells, left, and Doug Wigdor. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

Joe Oza, whose mother was killed in a 2007 gas explosion, speaks at a news conference on March 19, 2014. He is accompanied by attorneys Derek Sells, left, and Doug Wigdor. (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Families who lost loved ones in other gas disasters are hoping last week’s deadly East Harlem explosion is a wake-up call for Con Edison.

Accompanied by their lawyers, relatives of victims killed in past utility-related accidents held a news conference Wednesday in the Flatiron District calling for Con Ed and the city government to replace decaying infrastructure to prevent future deaths.

“They know that they deliver a dangerous product,” attorney Derek Sells told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “They don’t want to spend the money to change the infrastructure. They’d rather deal with it in court after people have been killed, and when they say, ‘Oh, wow, whew, it’s only eight people this time.”

Sells wouldn’t say whether he has been in touch with any East Harlem victims.

The sudden explosion last Wednesday rocked the neighborhood just after 9:30 a.m., about 15 minutes after someone reported smelling gas in a neighboring building, authorities said. Eight people were killed and more than 60 others were injured.

The blast brought down two five-story buildings that housed a church, a piano store and more than a dozen apartments, and hurled bricks, glass and other debris across East Harlem.

The NTSB said Tuesday the 8-inch cast iron and plastic gas main on Park Avenue between 116th and 117th streets, adjacent to the site of the explosion, failed a pressure test and that tracer gas pumped into the main exposed a leak. The pipes are more than 120 years old.

“New York is the greatest city in the world,” said lawyer Doug Wigdor. “We’re not in the Third World. I would think the people in this great city would sleep better at night knowing that the pipes that are beneath them don’t date back to the 1880s.”

Joe Oza and his wife, Clara, said they know exactly what families in East Harlem are feeling. Joe’s mother was killed in 2007 in Sunnyside, Queens, when her home filled up with gas and exploded.

“The text that me and my wife had together (after the East Harlem blast) was, ‘Here it is again,'” Joe Oza.

“We’re asking please stop making excuses, and let’s start fixing these pipes,” Clara said.

Con Ed says it has been replacing 65 miles of gas mains a year at a cost of more than $100 million.

The first lawsuit in connection with the explosion was filed Monday on behalf of Jose Vargas, a 20-year-old high school student who was injured.

Attorney Bob Vilensky filed the $10 million notice of claim, saying the city failed to ensure people’s safety by neglecting the upkeep of the underground gas lines.

“He’s just on the bus going to school, and the next thing he knows, the windows are shattered, the force of the explosion knocks him out of his seat onto the floor of the bus,” Vilensky told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.

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