A coworker of one of the men believed to have died in last week's deadly East Village explosion is opening up about the moments before tragedy struck—as the investigation hones in on a gas line that may have been improperly tapped. NY1's Lori Chung filed this report.
Hugo Ortega is holding out hope for his best friend, Moises Lucón, even though officials believe Lucón was one of two bodies recovered from the ruins of Sushi Park restaurant. They were both working there when a gas explosion ripped through the building.
“I don’t want to believe he is dead. I don’t. I want to believe he is in the hospital, in bad condition but OK—that he’s alive,” Ortega says.
Ortega said he and Lucón suspected something was wrong before the blast.
"It started to smell a lot like gas. And I told Moises to tell the manager and he told me, 'Yes, he knows already, but he said it's not here in the kitchen. The smell is coming from the basement because they're doing work there,'” Ortega recounts. "You just start fighting to get out because you're under the rubble, everything is falling on top of you."
Twenty-three-year-old Nicholas Figueroa's body was found over the weekend along with another body, which may be Lucón's, but that has not been confirmed.
Figueroa was paying for a lunch date at the Sushi Park restaurant when the explosion happened. Lucón was working the register.
At the site where three buildings once stood, crews are transitioning from a search and recovery to an operation now focused on gathering evidence, with investigators checking to see if the gas lines at 121 second avenue were improperly tapped.
With debris cleared to the ground level, investigators will next need to get to the basement level, where the blast took place.
The Manhattan District Attorney's office has joined the investigation along with fire marshals and police.
Meanwhile, crews have successfully opened a bus lane on the east side of Second Avenue.
Southbound traffic remains closed from 5th Street to 14th Street on Second Avenue.
Crosstown traffic also remains closed from 6th Street to St. Mark's Place.
A prayer vigil for the two people killed in the explosion was held Monday night in the East Village.
A funeral will be held for Nicholas Figueroa, 23, at the Ortiz Funeral Home in Washington Heights on Monday.