Officials at NY blast site work to reach basements

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Firefighters look over the site of a building explosion in New York, Friday, March 14, 2014. Using sound devices to probe for voices and telescopic cameras to peer into small spaces, workers searching a pile of rubble from a gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, continued to treat it as a rescue operation, holding onto the possibility of finding survivors from a blast that brought down two apartment buildings and killed at least eight people. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Firefighters look over the site of a building explosion in New York, Friday, March 14, 2014. Using sound devices to probe for voices and telescopic cameras to peer into small spaces, workers searching a pile of rubble from a gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, continued to treat it as a rescue operation, holding onto the possibility of finding survivors from a blast that brought down two apartment buildings and killed at least eight people. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Firefighters look over the site of a building explosion in New York, Friday, March 14, 2014. Using sound devices to probe for voices and telescopic cameras to peer into small spaces, workers searching a pile of rubble from a gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, continued to treat it as a rescue operation, holding onto the possibility of finding survivors from a blast that brought down two apartment buildings and killed at least eight people. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Firefighters look over the site of a building explosion in New York, Friday, March 14, 2014. Using sound devices to probe for voices and telescopic cameras to peer into small spaces, workers searching a pile of rubble from a gas explosion in the East Harlem section of Manhattan, continued to treat it as a rescue operation, holding onto the possibility of finding survivors from a blast that brought down two apartment buildings and killed at least eight people. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

People hold up candles while praying during a vigil for the victims of an explosion, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in New York. Rescuers working amid gusty winds, cold temperatures and billowing smoke pulled four additional bodies from the rubble of two New York City apartment buildings, raising the death toll to at least seven from a gas leak-triggered explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks, splinters and mangled metal. The explosion Wednesday morning in Manhattan’s East Harlem injured more than 60 people. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

An excavator removes debris from the site of a building explosion, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in New York. Rescuers working amid gusty winds, cold temperatures and billowing smoke pulled four additional bodies Thursday from the rubble of two New York City apartment buildings, raising the death toll to at least seven from a gas leak-triggered explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks, splinters and mangled metal. The explosion Wednesday morning in Manhattan’s East Harlem injured more than 60 people. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Emergency workers sifted through debris Saturday from the site of a deadly explosion at two New York City apartment buildings as they worked to reach the basement levels, clearing the way for investigators to search for clues that might reveal what caused the blast.

Construction machinery was offloading debris from the site in East Harlem, which was still swarming with emergency officials from multiple law enforcement agencies.

Truckloads of scattered material will be sifted for any traces of human remains that might not have been found at the site, said city Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. Although the bodies of all eight people reported missing have been recovered, the rescue operation was continuing in case others may be buried beneath the rubble, he said.

Arson detectives and fire marshals were waiting to enter the basements to examine meters, check pipes and inspect any possible ignition sources, such as light switches, that might have caused the blast. About 70 percent of the debris was cleared by midday Friday after a hazardous rear wall that had slowed the process was finally removed.

A few blocks away, underneath the Metro-North railroad tracks, several wrecked vehicles were still covered in bricks and debris. The vehicles had been removed from the close vicinity of the explosion.

No news briefings were scheduled for Saturday, and Mayor Bill de Blasio was not expected to visit the site.

“We thought we would see how the neighborhood is pulling together, but it might be too soon,” said Gloria Herrera, 24, who was watching the recovery effort. “This is so sad.”

More than 60 people were injured in the explosion, and more than 100 others were displaced, officials said.

The theory that the explosion was due to a gas leak gained momentum Friday after the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates pipeline accidents, said underground tests conducted in the hours after Wednesday morning’s explosion registered high concentrations of natural gas.

NTSB team member Robert Sumwalt said utility Consolidated Edison dug 50 holes about 18 to 24 inches deep around the blast site and measured gas levels in those cavities soon after the explosion. Gas concentration was up to 20 percent in at least five spots, and normal levels in the city’s soil should be zero, he said.

“Somehow or another, natural gas did work its way into the ground,” he said, adding that workers were testing nearby pipes to identify any with potential leaks.

The NTSB will conduct its own inquiry after police and fire officials determine what might have sparked the blast.

Police have identified six of those who died: Griselde Camacho, 45, a Hunter College security officer; Carmen Tanco, 67, a dental hygienist who participated in church-sponsored medical missions to Africa and the Caribbean; Andreas Panagopoulos, 43, a musician; Rosaura Hernandez, 22, a restaurant cook from Mexico; George Ameado, 44, a handyman who lived in one of the buildings that collapsed; and

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