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Victim found in East Village rubble

On Sunday, emergency workers found a body in the rubble of three East Village apartment buildings which collapsed earlier this week following an apparent gas explosion.

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    A man distributes pastries to weary firefighters at the site of an explosion and fire in the East Village neighborhood of New York, Friday.
    Mark Lennihan/AP
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A body was found Sunday in the rubble left behind by an apparent gas explosion three days earlier in Manhattan's East Village, police said.

The remains were discovered Sunday afternoon, according to police. No identification was immediately released.

Emergency workers were looking for signs of two missing men, both believed to be in the ground floor sushi restaurant in the building where the explosion took place: 26-year-old Moises Lucon, who worked at the restaurant, and 23-year-old Nicholas Figueroa, a bowling alley worker who had been there on a date.

The search of the rubble was still continuing. Workers raked through piles of loose brick, wood and debris with tools and their hands and using dogs to search the rubble where the explosion and subsequent fire on Thursday leveled three apartment buildings.

Authorities acknowledged the chances of finding anyone alive were slim.

An official with knowledge of the operation told The Associated Press that rubble removed from the scene would be taken to a secure location and screened again for human remains.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the operation was ongoing, said workers had reached the basement level at the blast site.

The official said workers would stop digging when they get close to the front wall of the restaurant because that section of the building must be examined as possible evidence of what caused the explosion, which authorities suspect was the result of a natural gas leak.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said someone may have improperly tapped a gas line before the explosion that injured 22 people, four of them critically.

Consolidated Edison said utility workers had discovered in August that the gas line to the restaurant had been illegally tapped. The discovery led Con Edison to shut down gas service to the building for about 10 days while the building owner made repairs. Gas service was restored after the utility deemed it safe, the utility said.

Inspectors from Con Ed had visited that building about an hour before Thursday's explosion and determined work to upgrade gas service didn't pass inspection, locking the line to ensure it wouldn't be used and then leaving, officials said.

Fifteen minutes later, the sushi restaurant's owner smelled gas and called the landlord, who called the general contractor, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. Nobody called 911 or Con Ed.

The contractor, Dilber Kukic, and the owner's son went into the basement and opened a door, and then the explosion happened, burning their faces, Boyce said. Kukic, who has pleaded not guilty to an unrelated charge of bribing a housing inspector, declined through his lawyer to comment on the circumstances surrounding the explosion.

The work underway was to put in a bigger line to serve the entire building, Con Ed President Craig Ivey said.

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