NEW YORK — Emergency workers sifted through debris yesterday from the site of a deadly explosion at two New York City apartment buildings as they worked to clear the way for investigators to search for clues that might reveal what caused the blast.
Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said rescue workers reached the rear of the basement yesterday but said that investigation of the piping and meters in the front of the basement that will help explain what caused the blast that killed eight people will likely start today.
He said that the National Transportation Safety Board also should be able to start pressure-testing the pipes today.
Arson detectives and fire marshals have been waiting to enter the basements to examine meters, check pipes and inspect any possible ignition sources, such as light switches, that might have caused the blast.
The theory that the explosion was due to a gas leak gained momentum Friday after the NTSB, which investigates pipeline accidents, said underground tests conducted in the hours after the explosion registered high concentrations of natural gas. The NTSB will conduct its own inquiry after police and fire officials determine what might have caused the blast.
Cassano said about 15 percent of the debris was left on the site late yesterday afternoon.
An uplifting moment from the painstaking recovery effort came as crews pulled a large water-damaged Bible from the rubble of the Spanish Christian Church, which was located in one of the two destroyed buildings. About two dozen people, including clergy members, carried the Bible in a solemn procession near the East Harlem site.
“This was in the depths of the rubble. Somehow God protected it,” said Rick del Rio, a bishop at the Church of God.
The church’s pastor, Thomas Perez, suffered heart palpitations when he saw the Bible, said Letitia James, the city’s public advocate. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital as a precaution, supporters said.