The East Village Tries To Get Back To Normal

Residents and businesses look back on an explosion that destroyed three buildings and killed two people.

Firefighters walk toward what's left of three buildings after they were leveled due to a gas explosion in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, on Friday, March 27, 2015.

Firefighters walk toward what’s left of three buildings after they were leveled. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

Jordy Trachtenberg was at home relaxing on a day off when he heard the explosion that tore apart three buildings on the afternoon of March 26, just around the corner from where he lives in the East Village. The 46-year-old music industry consultant was sitting low in his black leather recliner, his bare feet up on the footrest, getting ready to sink into another episode of Judge Judy.

“All of a sudden, there was a loud bang,” Trachtenberg said. “It wasn’t just any bang; it was a bang with force. You could feel it. It shook the building and I jumped up and there was glass and plaster and wood on fire hitting my window.”

“I assumed the debris were falling off from my roof,” he added, because Consolidated Edison, the gas company, was working in his building.

Trachtenberg, who lives on St. Marks Place two buildings over and behind from where the explosion happened, put on sneakers and raced down to the street from his third-floor walk-up.

“I was here for blackouts and 911 and stuff, so anytime I hear an explosion, you assume the worst,” he said. “I’m smart enough to know that when you hear something that loud, with the magnitude of that force, something’s wrong. You know immediately it’s time to vacate the area.”

A firefighter walks away from what's left of three buildings after a gas explosion in the East Village on Friday, March 27, 2015. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

A crew member examines the rubble from what’s left of three buildings as a firefighter walks away. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

The blast killed two people and destroyed three buildings on Second Avenue and East Seventh Street, and injured at least 25 people, four of them critically. Three of the critically injured were released from the hospital on Monday, The New York Times reported. The fourth was upgraded to good condition.

Firefighters recovered two bodies on Sunday, one of them identified as Nicholas Figueroa, the other as Moises Ismael Locón Yac. City officials are still investigating the cause of the explosion, though they have suggested that leaking natural gas may have caused the fire and the explosion.

Trachtenberg said ConEd was working on the roof of his building the day of the blast trying to fix the gas lines after a leak was reported there. The building had been without gas for six months, he said, and when he heard the explosion, he thought it was due to whatever ConEd was doing.

Firefighters in a cherry picker near the East Village explosion site . (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

Firefighters in a cherry picker near the explosion site. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

When he went back into his building late that night, “it looked like my apartment was in the cloud,” he said. “The halls were smoky and everything outside was gray. The smell of sulfur was really bad.”

Figueroa, 23, had gone missing shortly after the blast. He had reportedly been on a lunch date at the Sushi Park restaurant at 121 Second Avenue, in one of the buildings that collapsed.

Firefighters stand near what's left of three buildings. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

Firefighters stand near what’s left of three buildings. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

Hours before his body was positively identified, his brother Neal Figueroa and other relatives and friends staged a vigil near the explosion site. One held a white board with the words, “Please Find Nicholas,” written in all caps. Others had fliers with the word, “Missing,” written underneath a color photo of a smiling Nicholas. The fliers also listed various phone numbers to call in case of any information. Many also held white roses.

One relative who spoke briefly to NY City Lens said the vigil was intended to make sure Nicholas wasn’t forgotten. His brother Neal declined to speak to reporters.

Relatives and friends of Nicholas Figueroa put up fliers near the explosion site on March 29. (Solange Uwimana /NY City Lens)

Relatives and friends of Nicholas Figueroa put up fliers near the explosion site on March 29. (Solange Uwimana /NY City Lens)

The other body recovered on Sunday is believed to be that of Yac, 27, a busboy at Sushi Park, who had also been reported missing.

Trachtenberg, who said he has lived in the East Village for 28 years, remembered Sushi Park fondly.

“I ate there at least once a week,” he said. “You know it’s funny how two worlds come together over a place that you would never think of twice until something happens. You have that weird connection with somebody you don’t know very well but it’s always a comfort and pleasure to see them, you know. You go every week and there’s that person and there’s the pleasantries and the greetings. It’s sad.”

One thing Trachtenberg appreciated about the neighborhood is that immediately after the blast, his neighbors and people he saw every day were helping each other, making sure everyone was all right.

He said he also made an effort that weekend to stop by the many businesses near his apartment. Though there were few customers the day after the blast, Trachtenberg bought an egg cream from Gem Spa on Friday afternoon. The small deli, located on the corner of Second Avenue and St. Marks Place, closed at 4 p.m. the day of the blast but opened at noon on Friday.

A man watches the police and fire department activity. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

A man watches the police and fire department activity. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

The stands selling tourist wear beside Gem Spa were also open, though they attracted few customers on Friday afternoon and throughout the weekend. Bangladeshi immigrant Shakir Shameem, who operates a stand filled with hats, scarves, and gloves, and numerous New York City trinkets, waited for four hours to open on Friday, the day after the blast.

“Every morning, I open at 8 o’clock,” Shameem said in accented English. “I wasn’t going to close. I’m not that rich person so I have to keep opening, otherwise how do I get my dinner? That’s why I came at 8 o’clock.”

At the Verizon Wireless store on the other side of St. Marks Place at Second Avenue, employees said on Friday they were given the option of staying home if they didn’t feel up to working that day.

Managers told salesperson Kay Alcime “that if we feel like we can’t stay or we can’t take it, then we should leave automatically,” she said. “It smelled like smoke and gas in here a little bit when I walked in this morning.”

Pedestrians stop and take pictures. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

Pedestrians stop and take pictures of the explosion site. (Solange Uwimana / NY City Lens)

The area around the blast was still cordoned off on Tuesday morning as crews and firefighters continue to work in the area and dispose of debris from the explosion. Many pedestrians and tourists have also come to gawk and take photos of the wreckage.

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