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Two people now declared missing, 19 injured in New York City building collapse

WATCH ABOVE: Witnesses reported hearing a large explosion and the blast set off a major fire in a Manhattan building. There are concerns the entire structure could come down. Aarti Pole has the details.

NEW YORK – Authorities say two people are unaccounted for – and possibly six are missing – following an apparent gas explosion that levelled three buildings in Manhattan’s East Village.

Nineteen people were injured, four critically, after the powerful blast and fire sent flames soaring and debris flying Thursday afternoon. Authorities said they were searching for Nicholas Figueroa, who had been on date at a restaurant in one of three buildings that were levelled, and Moises Lucon, a worker there.

Police said they also were trying to determine whether six other people reported missing – but not thought to have been in the destroyed buildings – were connected to the explosion.

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Preliminary evidence suggested a gas explosion amid plumbing and gas work inside the building was to blame.

WATCH: Bystanders and news crews captured various images of the fire and building collapse from all angles.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the blast appeared to have been caused by plumbing and gas work inside one building. A plumber was doing work connected to a gas service upgrade, and inspectors from utility Con Edison had been there to check on a planned meter installation about an hour before the fire, company President Craig Ivey said. But the work failed the inspection, partly because a space for the new meters wasn’t big enough, and the inspectors said gas couldn’t be introduced to that part of the building, Con Ed said.

De Blasio said no one had reported a gas leak to authorities before Thursday’s blast. Con said it had surveyed all the gas mains on the block Wednesday and found no leaks.

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A building burns after an explosion on 2nd Avenue on March 26, 2015 in New York City. The seven alarm fire drew firefighters from across the city. A number of injuries have been reported. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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Smoke rises from a burning building after an explosion on 2nd Avenue on March 26, 2015 in New York City. The seven alarm fire drew firefighters from across the city. A number of injuries have been reported. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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In this photo provided by the NYPD Special Ops, smoke rises from the scene of a large fire and a partial building collapse in the East Village neighborhood of New York on Thursday, March 26, 2015. (AP Photo/NYPD Special Ops)
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New York City firefighters work the scene of a large fire and a partial building collapse in the East Village neighborhood of New York on Thursday, March 26, 2015. Orange flames and black smoke are billowing from the facade and roof of the building near several New York University buildings. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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New York City firefighters work the scene of a large fire and a partial building collapse in the East Village neighborhood of New York on Thursday, March 26, 2015. Orange flames and black smoke are billowing from the facade and roof of the building near several New York University buildings. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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New York City firefighters work the scene of a large fire and a partial building collapse in the East Village neighborhood of New York on Thursday, March 26, 2015. Orange flames and black smoke are billowing from the facade and roof of the building near several New York University buildings. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

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. De Blasio noted that no one had reported a gas leak to authorities before Thursday’s blast.

The area was evacuated, and the city’s health department advised residents to keep their windows closed because of the smoke.

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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 that it blew the door off a cafe across the avenue. Rubble, glass and debris littered sidewalks.

Con Ed crews planned to start investigating after firefighters got the blaze under control. The state Department of Public Service was monitoring Con Ed’s response, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

In the aftermath, one person was lying on the ground, being attended to by two to three passers-by who were holding his head still, Seto said. A woman was sitting on the curb with blood coming down her face, and another woman walked past him with blood on her face, he said.

The location of a building fire and partial collapse in Manhattan, New York, on Mar. 26, 2015. Janet Cordahi / Global News

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Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz, Jonathan Lemore, Colleen Long and Kiley Armstrong contributed to this report.

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