Nightly News   |  March 12, 2014

Gas Leak Likely to Blame for Deadly New York City Explosion

At last count the blast killed at least three people and injured scores more. A desperate search is underway for those still unaccounted for.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a desperate search under way for nine people still unaccounted for after the massive explosion that destroyed two buildings, killed two people, at least scores are injured, some in critical condition. ron allen has more on the story. good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, ann, even with rain falling here the fire is still so intense that the firefighters have not been able to completely put it out. that is making the search for survivors extremely difficult. at last count this blast injured as many as 70 people. a blast that was felt and heard nearly a mile away. 9:31 a.m ., without warning an explosion rocks an urban new york community. east harlem , the streets packed with people.

>> we heard a huge explosion and thought that the train had exploded.

>> boom, and my windows rattled.

>> reporter: more than 200 firefighters responded. the battle of the blaze lasted into the afternoon. before the explosion, these two buildings had 15 apartments, one had a piano store, the other, home to a church. now reduced to rubble and bil l billowing smoke.

>> i was literally walking by with my son in the stroller ten minutes before the blast happened. it is horrible, horrible.

>> reporter: hundreds of evacuated nearby buildings, then a frantic search to find neighbors and loved ones. this woman pled with police to let her pass through the barricades sealing off the area to try to find her cousins.

>> the house is right next door where it blew up. and i got to know, i got to find out.

>> reporter: very quickly, officials said a gas leak had likely caused the blast. a neighbor had reported a problem minutes before the explosion. and workers were on their way.

>> this is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people. we know we've lost two people already.

>> reporter: word of a gas leak was no surprise to ruben berrero who had left moments before the explosion with his family. he said he smelled gas yesterday and said it was worse a month ago.

>> i mean, literally you couldn't take a walk in the building without feeling sick.

>> reporter: crews worked near the blast scene trying to make sure the neighborhood is safe. tonight dozens of families are not able to go home and many more have lost everything. the destruction is really massive and intense. and the impact is widespread. there are still dozens of firefighters out here trying to get the situation completely under control. also tonight there are federal investigators here from the ntsb, the agency that also investigates pipeline explosions, they're here tonight trying to keep the situation under control. back to you, ann.

>> all right, ron allen , thank you for reporting on the