New York Gas Explosion Raised Question on Illegal Gas Hookups

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( — April 1, 2015)  New York, DC — New York City officials identified a gas leak as the cause of an explosion that killed two, and injured more than 20 people, after a residential building went up in flames, and then collapsed. The gas leak was due to an improper, allegedly illegal, gas installation. The finding raised a question on the number of illegal gas hookups in the city.

“There’s reason to believe so far that there may have been inappropriate tampering with the gas lines within the building, but until we get full evidence, we can’t conclude that,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday.

While authorities inspect gas installations in the city searching for illegal hookups, New York utility Consolidated Edison told the AP that improper gas hookups are “fairly uncommon.” However, there are others who dispute that claim.

“It’s a regular problem,” said expert Mark McDonald, of NatGas Consulting. “Just as you can imagine theft in a Wal-Mart, no different — but it’s much more dangerous.”

Being in the gas buisness 25 years, McDonald said he and his colleague have reported an illegal gas hookup almost every week. Some of the installations were sophisticated; however, others were crude and dangerous.

“I’ve seen everything from complete morons to really detailed theft,” he said.

According to a federal statistic, illegal gas installations caused eleven accidents since 2010, however, that statistic records only major events such as explosions. There are quite a few more incidents caused by improper gas installations that aren’t part of the statistics data, AP reported.  

The police interviewed the restaurant owner, Hyeonil Kim, over the weekend and heard his ideas about how gas may have been redirected to the appliances of tenants in the apartments above his restaurant.

Consolidated Edison records showed that back in August utility workers found that the restaurant in the building had an illegally configured gas hookup. Authorities closed the building and it was reopened within ten days, after the owner had the repairs done.

The investigators now believe that, for more than a year, gas had been redirected from pipes coming into two of the buildings that were destroyed. They are looking into the possibility that the siphoning apparatus had been dismantled or somehow hidden from Con Edison’s inspectors on Thursday afternoon, then restored after they left, the New York Times reported.

Con Ed workers concluded that installations should have had a bigger gas line to service the entire building, Con Ed President Craig Ivey said. When the restaurant owner smelled the gas, he then called the building owner who sent his son with a contractor to check it out. The moment they opened the basement door, an explosion occurred burning them both, AP quoted a source.

One of the two killed was identified on Monday as Nicholas Figueroa, 23, who was eating in the first floor sushi restaurant.

The building’s property owner and the contractor are not responding to repeated requests for comments, AP reported.

The blast on Thursday killed two men and destroyed three buildings.