Inspectors discovered faulty work just an hour before an apparent gas explosion destroyed a Manhattan apartment building, injuring 19 people, it has emerged.
The blast in the fashionable East Village neighbourhood caused the building to collapse and largely destroyed another structure. Four of the injured are in a critical condition.
New York mayor Bill de Blasio said preliminary evidence suggested an explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building that collapsed was to blame.
He said it appeared no one was missing, but the family of a 23-year-old man said he had not been seen since eating at a restaurant.
Craig Ivey, president of utility company Con Edison, said a plumber was doing work connected to a gas service upgrade and inspectors had been there to check on a planned meter installation about an hour before the fire, Mr Ivey said.
But the work failed the inspection, partly because a space for the new meters was not big enough and the inspectors said gas could not be introduced to that part of the building.
The fire spread to nearby buildings, scattering debris across surrounding streets in the heart of East Village.
Orange flames billowed and smoke could be seen and smelled for miles after the blaze, in an area of old tenement buildings that are home to students and long-time residents near New York University and Washington Square Park.
About 250 firefighters battled the blazes and a second building was “in danger of possible collapse”. A total of four buildings were affected.
The area was evacuated and the city’s health department advised residents to keep their windows closed because of the smoke.
Adil Choudhury, who lives a block away, ran outside when he heard “a huge boom”.
“Already there was smoke everywhere” when he saw the building, he said. “The flames were coming out from the roof. The fire was coming out of every window.”
Items from a ground-floor sushi restaurant were blown into a street and the explosion was so forceful it blew the door off a cafe. Rubble, glass and debris littered pavements.
The fire happened a little over a year after a gas explosion in a building in East Harlem killed eight people and injured about 50.