Residents, businesses near East Village blast look for return to normalcy

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Lucy Yang has more from the East Village. (WABC)

As the investigation goes on into the deadly explosion in the East Village, businesses and residents are trying to go on as well.

But there's a problem. The stores near the collapse site are open, but the streets leading into them are not.

Here's the conflict: Investigators need time and space to clean up the area and find the cause of the blast, but merchants and residents are feeling the pressure to get back to normal.

Moishe's bakery is open, and there are handwritten signs on Second Avenue, but you wouldn't know it from the day's receipts. Every day lost is felt at the cash register.

"Seventy percent down business," owner Moishe Perl said. "Seventy to 80 percent."

The main problem for the businesses that were not damaged is access. A Chinese restaurant is open but the sidewalks are blocked and there's a barricade to get past.

Inside Monday afternoon, there were just four customers for lunch.

And these are the lucky businesses, which only need wait for streets and sidewalks to reopen and hope they can pay their next month's rent.

The ones closest to the fiery explosion are completely gone, and residents have not had an easy time either.

"We've smelled gas in our building, but they dealt with it," East Village resident Adriel Bercow said. "Something we always think about. These are old buildings."

Bercow is now allowed back into his apartment, but some 60 NYU students have not been able to return since last Thursday. Crews were finally allowed to haul out garbage from the dorm on Monday.

Officials say 64 households consisting of 125 adults and five children are registered with the Red Cross for help with housing.

Mixed in with the pile of debris is what is left of Peter Menchini's apartment. He lived four floors above Sushi Park.

"It's a lot to process at first," he said. "At first, it's kind of surreal."

Menchini had just moved into a newly-renovated apartment with three friends in August. Investigators have contacted him trying to get information after Con Ed says it was discovered gas may have been rigged for the apartments above the restaurant. However, to Menchini, nothing seemed out of the ordinary while he lived there.

"Really no problems in terms of, especially gas," he said. "I didn't even think to be concerned about that, because I never had to be in the previous two apartments I lived in."

He may not have been home during the blast, but nearby resident Austin Branda was.

"I was playing my drums, went flying off my seat, ran to the window and thought terrorism," he said. "I got ice from the icebox and went to help people who were injured. I went to help a lady off the fire escape."

First responders who also rushed to the scene after the explosion and ran into the burning buildings looking for residents were honored as heroes.

Middle Collegiate Church recognized them, along with people like Branda, who thought nothing of their own safety in order to help others.
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