A worker who lit a match while checking for gas is believed to have sparked the explosion that rocked John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx Thursday night, injuring three construction workers, at least one of them seriously, sources close to the investigation tell NBC 4 New York.
The worker was installing a tabletop gas valve as part of a science lab construction project on the sixth floor of the building, and he lit the match to check to see if the gas was working, sparking the explosion, according to the FDNY. The room had been filled with gas from work throughout the day but the worker apparently didn't detect the smell of gas because he had been desensitized to it.
The blast blew out the walls of the science lab on the northwest corrner of the building and sent debris flying 200 feet, according to the FDNY. Several floors were damaged in the explosion.
The other two workers have been identified by sources as 38-year-old James Intriago, who was burned on his hands, face and arms, and as 53-year-old Charles Marullo, who was burned on his hands and torso. Both remain at Jacobi Hospital.
Building permit records show the workers were permitted to provide heat and cold water, sanitary and gas connections from the cellar to the science equipment on the sixth floor, among other work in the classrooms. There was no immediate response from the Mar-Sal offices Friday.
The investigation is ongoing.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday the seven schools housed in the building will not be ready to open on the first day of classes on Sept. 9, despite Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina's statement earlier that the building will be safe by that day. Farina had said "no student will be in the school unless it's totally safe."
De Blasio now says that the building will not be ready, and all 3,000 students at the seven schools -- two of them charter schools -- will be placed in alternative locations. Parents of the 2,000 students at the five city schools will be updated by the Department of Education.
A full-vacate order remains in place for the entire building, and safety zones have been set up along the south and west facades of the building, the buildings department said. Authorities will continue to assess the stability of the building and determine a plan, if necessary, for demolition and remediation.
Danny Steiner, a science teacher at one of the schools housed in the building, said the science lab was "magnificent."
"They're building another one on the other side of the building," said Steiner, who lives in the neighborhood and felt the explosion. "My classroom is 30 feet away from the explosion. Very sad, very scary."
The construction workers had been privately contracted by the New York City Schools Construction Authority as part of a project to build science labs on the sixth floor of the building, Mayor de Blasio said. The SCA had frequently worked with the contractor, who de Blasio said "had a great reputation."
Some custodians who were on break in the building at the time told NBC 4 New York they were just getting ready to return to work when they felt the blast.
"I thought it was a bomb, the way we felt it, it was just crazy," said Addae Hicks.
Colleague Jason Osorio said they heard the explosion, saw a quick flash, "and then the alarms went off 5 seconds after."
Neighbor Larissa Alvarado, who lives next to the school on East 228th Street, said "the whole house shook completely. I thought the whole house was going to fall down. It was really, really scary."
Another neighbor, Christina Pineles, said it felt like an earthquake. Her building was "shaking, like it was going to collapse."
Neighbors said they're relieved there were no children in the building at the time. But students are nervous about the first day of school in less than three weeks.
"I don't know how we're supposed to back to school because that's an entire floor that exploded," said student Joelle Rodriguez.