US & Canada

Eighth body found after New York City blast

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Media captionThe BBC's Nick Bryant said the "freezing cold" conditions are challenging for crews at the scene

Rescuers have found the body of an eighth victim following a gas leak and explosion that demolished two buildings in Harlem, New York City.

Firefighters are trying to find further victims trapped beneath the rubble of the apartment blocks, with the death toll expected to rise.

Police believe a handful of people remained unaccounted for.

More than 60 people were injured after the devastating blast sent debris flying through the air on Wednesday.

Residents were said to have complained recently about "unbearable" gas smells.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rushed to the scene in Upper Manhattan, said preliminary information showed the explosion was caused by a gas leak.

A fire at the site of the blast on Park Avenue and 116th Street hampered the initial search and a sinkhole created by a broken water main caused further difficulties.

But firefighters worked through the night on Wednesday, as temperatures dropped to near freezing, to sift through the rubble, using a bulldozer to help clear the site.

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Image caption Firefighters sift through the rubble of the building searching for survivors
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Dozens of first responders were on hand to evacuate victims

Rescue workers pulled three bodies out of the debris in the early hours of Thursday morning, and a seventh death was confirmed just before 12:00 GMT (08:00 local time).

No details have yet been given of the eighth victim.

Rescuers are now about halfway through clearing the rubble.

"This is a difficult job, a challenging job," Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said. He added that it was "a very terrible and traumatic scene".

"We are continuing rescue operations hoping to find others still alive," Mr de Blasio said on Thursday.

The blast shattered windows a block away and rained debris on to nearby railway lines, which closed Grand Central station for several hours on Wednesday.

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Media caption"We heard 'boom' and all the windows broke down"

"It felt like an earthquake had rattled my whole building," said Waldemar Infante, a porter who was working nearby. "There were glass shards everywhere on the ground, and all the stores had their windows blown out."

A local college identified one victim as Griselde Camacho, a 45-year-old security officer who had worked at the school since 2008.

She was said to be a "well-liked member of our community, a respected officer and a welcoming presence" by Hunter College President Jennifer Raab in a statement to US media.

Another victim, 67-year-old dental hygienist Carmen Tanco, was described as a "beautiful person" by friend Isabel Villaverde to the New York Daily News.

"If you were sick, she came to your home and cooked for you and cleaned for you," Ms Tanco's cousin Diana Cortez told The New York Times.

Other victims were identified as Andreas Panagopoulos, a musician, Rosaura Hernandez, 22, a restaurant cook from Mexico and Rosaura Barrios Vazquez, 43.

Two other male victims were not identified.

At least three of the injured were children and a 15-year-old boy was reported to be in a critical condition. Authorities said that most of the other injuries were minor and included cuts and scrapes.

Meanwhile, city officials and utility company Con Edison are facing questions about whether complaints of a smell of gas in the area had been ignored before the fatal leak.

Con Edison said a resident in a nearby building reported smelling gas shortly before the incident, but a team of engineers did not arrive until it was too late.

A tenant in one of the destroyed buildings, Ruben Borrero, said residents had previously made complaints about smelling gas.

Edward Foppiano, a Con Ed spokesman, said there was only one gas odour complaint on record with the utility from either address. It was from last May and involved a small leak.

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Image caption Before and after at the collapsed buildings
Image copyright AP
Image caption Nearly 200 firefighters were dispatched to try to extinguish the fire the followed the blast
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Firefighters begin searching through the rubble of the two buildings

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