NEW YORK (AP) — The explosion that tore through two East Harlem apartment buildings took the lives of at least eight people, including a young woman making her way up in the restaurant world, two women who were steadfast volunteers in their church and a man described by his widow as "the smartest person" who could talk about anything.
— ANDREAS PANAGOPOULOS
Liseth Perez-Almeida had to frequently catch her breath as she spoke about the life and death of her husband, Andreas Panagopoulos, who had worked from their East Harlem home for an online site that manages a film and photography directory.
The couple had been together for 13 years and married for eight, she said, her voice soft and faltering as she spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday. "He was the smartest person ... he was so special."
Perez-Almeida left for work earlier than usual on Wednesday and had been in Brooklyn when she heard about the blast at Park Avenue and 116th Street.
"I started calling him on the phone" with no answer, she said. Throughout the night, friends went to hospital emergency rooms in hopes Panagopoulos would be there.
"We spent all night trying to find him, all the hospitals," said Evangelos Alkimos, a friend of Panagopoulos'. "We don't want to think he is dead."
Perez-Almeida even went to one hospital thinking her husband was there, only to face the bitter disappointment of not finding him.
Authorities delivered the bad news to her on Thursday.
Perez-Almeida and Panagopoulos used to go to Greece, his native country, every summer. She plans to take his body there for burial.
— CARMEN TANCO
Carmen Tanco was a longtime member of the Bethel Gospel Assembly, located in a building a few blocks from the scene of Wednesday's explosion.
Associate pastor Gordon Williams said Tanco "was known as 'Auntie' to just about everybody."
The 67-year-old dental hygienist had gone on medical missions with the church to South Africa, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic. She had been planning to return to the Dominican Republic in July for another mission.
Williams said Tanco told him she was planning to take a little bottle filled with coins on the trip to give to children or anyone else who might need them.
"She was always looking to bless and help and be there," Williams said.
One of Tanco's cousins, Angel Vargas, said Tanco moved to New York from Puerto Rico around 1970. He said she had been married and divorced and had no children.
Vargas said Tanco was a cherished presence at family gatherings over the years.
"She was always that person who would get up and dance and have fun with everyone," he said. "She was the life of the party.
— GRISELDE CAMACHO
Griselde Camacho had been a member of the Bethel Gospel Assembly for about six years, officials said.
Camacho, 45, a public safety officer at Hunter College, volunteered as an audio-visual technician at the church, operating the PowerPoint presentations during Bishop Carlton T. Brown's sermons.
Brown said Camacho "was always seeking to do her best, eager to serve, eager to please."
Hunter College President Jennifer Raab called Camacho "a well-liked member of our community, a respected officer and a welcoming presence at our Silberman building."
Camacho was a single mother of a teenage son, said Ruth-Ann Wynter, director of ministry relations at Bethel.
— ROSAURA HERNANDEZ
Rosaura Hernandez worked at Triomphe Restaurant in the Iroquois Hotel as a line cook.
Hotel general manager Robert Holmes called Hernandez's death "truly a terrible loss."
Holmes said the 22-year-old was at the restaurant just under two years. He said she started as an intern and became a line cook when a position opened up.
He said she was "calm, cool and collected" in the demanding restaurant environment.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.