Amid search for the missing in NYC blast, friends, loved ones reflect on those killed

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 3/13/2014, 1:54 p.m.
In the mid-March chill Thursday, the victims and their stories continued emerging as firefighters ferreted through the piles of bricks ...
FDNY Crews engage in clean up and rescue efforts Thursday, March 13, 2014, the day after a building exploded and collapsed in East Harlem.

By Ray Sanchez

CNN

In the mid-March chill Thursday, the victims and their stories continued emerging as firefighters ferreted through the piles of bricks and wreckage on the East Harlem block where a powerful explosion and fire leveled two buildings.

They brought life to a vibrant neighborhood of corner bodegas, churches, shops and redbrick tenements whose ordinary rhythms were shattered when Wednesday's morning blast killed at least seven and injured dozens more.

There was Carmen Tanco, a 67-year-old dental hygienist whose relatives tried desperately to reach by cellphone in the hours after the explosion.

"She's sassy, spicy, which is why her and I are so close," her niece, Marisela Frias, said before learning that her aunt had died. "We have the same temperament, character, we tell it like it is, tell you the truth whether you want to hear it or not. What you see is what you get."

Another victim, Griselde Camacho, 44, was a public safety officer at the Hunter College Silberman School of Social Work building in East Harlem, the school said on its website.

"Griselde was a well-liked member of our community, a respected officer and a welcoming presence at our Silberman building," said Jennifer J. Raab, the college president. "Our deepest sympathies go out to her family, and we are committed to doing everything we can to support them in their time of great emotional need. We also know this is a difficult time for all those who knew and worked with Sergeant Camacho. All of you will be in our thoughts in the days ahead."

Rosaura Hernandez, 21, who also perished in the blast, was a line cook at Triomphe Restaurant, general manager Robert Holmes said.

"She was a great team player," said Holmes, who learned of her death from Hernandez family members. "She was a great person to work with... Its very hard."

Though authorities have said a gas leak may have triggered the explosion, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters Thursday that the official cause was under investigation.

"We know there was an explosion," he said, "but we don't know everything about the lead-up to it."

The names of other victims have yet to be released. At least five people remain missing, police said.

On Wednesday, one woman tried in vain to find her husband, Jordy Salas, who may have been on the second floor of one of the collapsed buildings. She fainted and was taken to a hospital.

Near 116th Street and Park Avenue, once the heart of New York's large Puerto Rican community, firefighters were still tearing at mounds of bricks in a search for survivors from the two collapsed buildings, which housed a piano store and an evangelical church in addition to apartments.

"We [had] probably about two-and-a-half floors of debris, so we have it now down to about one, one-and-a-half floors," Edward Kilduff, a fire department chief, told de Blasio Thursday morning during a tour of the site. "The victims have primarily been found on the left-center side about 20 feet in."