Rescue crews with cadaver dogs pulled two bodies Sunday from the rubble of the East Village gas explosion and authorities identified one of them as Nicholas Figueroa, a 23-year-old college student who was on a date in a sushi joint when hell was unleashed.
All day, Figueroa’s family clung to hope that firefighters would find the young man alive, and held vigil at St. Masks and Second Ave, tossing white roses, baby’s breath and sunflowers, into the street.
"Find my brother, please!" his brother, Neal Figueroa yelled to emergency workers as they picked through the rubble at 7th and Second. "Thank you, we have faith, don't give up."
But at 3 p.m., when a second body was found, Neal broke down as relatives escorted him to a waiting NYPD van.
"They found him. His body is all intact. Nothing burned him,” said family friend Awilda Cordero. “The family is distraught.”
It was still unclear Sunday night if the second body found is that of the other missing man, Moises Lucon, 26, who worked in Sushi Park at 121 Second Ave.
“We continue to search although there are no other missing persons,” said Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. “So the feeling is everyone who had been reported missing has now been found. The likelihood of anyone else being here is very small.”
Nigro said one body found 20 feet from the entrance of 121 Second Ave. and the other 40 feet from the entrance.
Crews are working day and night to remove debris from the explosion site, Nigro said. More than 1,000 cubic yards of debris have been cleared and crews expect to be working throughout this week.
In all, 11 buildings were evacuated because of the explosion, leaving residents of 144 apartments without homes. Three buildings were destroyed and a fourth badly damaged.
Investigators are looking into whether gas and plumbing work being done privately in one building led to the explosion.
Firefighters are digging their way toward the basement beneath Sushi Park, where the explosion originated,
The basement could hold the key to the cause of the devastation, which Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday said was possibly tied to someone "inappropriately" tapping into a gas line.
Twenty-two people were injured - four critically - in the explosion, police said.
An hour before the blast Con Edison utility inspectors had been at the scene and determined that pre-existing work was not satisfactory, but the problems were not safety related, the mayor said.
The contractor, identified as Dilber Kukic, was one of 50 people arrested in February in a sweep of the city by building and housing inspectors.
He was accused of bribing an undercover investigator to dismiss violations at two properties, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
Meanwhile, locals and regulars in the East Village are still shaken.
Phil Smrek, of Williamsburg, who was at a nearby theater when the blast happened, said, “I just feel vulnerable."