NEW YORK (AP) — In front of the barren, icy, fenced-off lot that once held two five-story apartment buildings, relatives of the victims of a gas explosion there came together with city officials Thursday to mark the anniversary of the blast that killed eight people.

Many of the 50 or so family members carried white roses. Flowers also decked the metal fence around the blast site, as did yellow and white balloons and written tributes to the victims.

Angel Vargas of the Bronx, there to honor his cousin Carmen Tanco, said, "We grew up together. We used to come right here for family gatherings. I knew these hallways well."

Tanco, a dental hygienist who went overseas on church-sponsored medical missions, "was a wonderful person," Vargas said. "The last thing she said to me was 'Always respect your mother and have a great birthday every year.'"

Another lost loved one, Griselde Camacho, a Hunter College security officer, "had a beautiful smile," said her cousin Nilsa Rios-Aguila.

"She is in a better place," said a teary Rios-Aguila, and those she left behind are "going to continue being strong."

Mayor Bill de Blasio noted the blast also injured dozens of people and left many homeless for months.

"This whole city was rocked by this tragedy," he said during the ceremony. "For so many families, their world changed in just an instant."

But he also said first responders saved lives, neighbors provided shelter and people throughout the city donated to the survivors.

"In the midst of tragedy," he said, "New Yorkers showed us something so strong, so resilient, so good."

The crowd, on folding chairs set up on a closed block, observed a minute of silence at 9:31 a.m., the time of the explosion a year ago. Afterward, families gathered around a memorial cherry tree in a planter made from explosion debris.

In the days after the blast, federal investigators found a leak in a gas main that had parts dating back to 1887.

After the explosion, the city's fire department was given a much greater role in responding to reports of possible leaks. It encouraged residents to call 911 rather than the 311 complaint line, and calls have risen by 68 percent, said department spokesman Frank Dwyer.