HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) – An old fuel tank exploded Thursday as it was being excavated from behind a home in Hastings-on-Hudson, shooting flames in the sky and leaving two men dead.

The blast took place around 11:30 a.m. at 65 Hillside Ave., according to Hastings-on-Hudson police. The two victims, identified as Segundo Mora, 50, and Luis Jocho, 52. were excavating the old fuel tank from behind the house when it exploded, WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported.

Chief Anthony Visalli said Friday that investigators suspect that gasoline vapors in the underground tank – not the usual remnants of heating oil – caused the deadly blast.

Visalli said soil tests should reveal what the tank held. Hazardous materials experts and the state Department of Environmental Conservation were back at the scene Friday, he said.

“We believe the explosion was caused by gasoline vapor in the tank,” Visalli said. “We think it’s been there for a long time. Why there was gasoline we don’t know. That’ll all come out in the days and weeks to come.”

As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, the explosion also put a Westchester County school on lockdown.

“The explosion of the tank went straight up about 75 feet in the air,” Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said.

The fuel tank ended up landing more than 100 feet away in the woods behind the house.

“I heard this absolute huge, huge, huge explosion,” said neighbor Beth Fonfrias.
“I never heard anything quite like it,” said Kevin Ettinger.

A contractor was onsite with workers, digging around the tank and preparing it for removal.

“The guy who was running and asked him to cut it open so he could clean it out,” said Django Morrison, who owns the multi-family home. “I decided at that point, I was going inside, because I don’t want to be around if anything went wrong.”

Clearly shaken after the blast, Morrison said earlier that he fled as workers took out a saw to cut the metal.

“Thirty seconds later, there was a huge explosion,” he said. “I went out there, and there was two people dead in the backyard; two workers.”

Others also saw the grisly aftermath – including the bodies.

“I saw where it landed, and I saw flames,” Ettinger said. “Very sad.”

Fonfrias compared the force of the explosion to an earthquake that rocked Hastings-on-Hudson several years ago.

“I looked this way, and there were flames shooting up and black smoke, then eerily quiet,” added Fonfrias.

Less than a block away, Hastings High School was immediately put on a lock-in. Classes went on as normally scheduled, but students were not allowed outside.

“We practice these kind of emergency drills all the time,” said school Supt. Roy Montesano.

Hastings-on-Hudson Mayor Peter Swiderski praised his all-volunteer fire department for its quick response.

“These are men running into a situation normally men are running out of,” Swiderski said. “They went to work immediately trying to resuscitate the two men, and there was no chance.”

Astorino surveyed the damage, the crater and the mangled tank.

“A lot of questions of why it would happen, and the process may not have been followed the correct way,” he said. “But they (police) are going to do their investigation.”

Con Edison also responded to the scene as a precaution.

A truck belonging to Three D Industrial Maintenance was parked at the house. The company has not returned CBS2’s request for comment.

Police late Thursday were still investigating the cause of the blast.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

 

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