After the Blast in Midtown
(New York - WABC, July 18, 2007) (WABC) -- Like a gushing geyser, a street in midtown Manhattan literally exploded Wednesday night, a 24 inch steam pipe blasting open, sending people rushing for cover during the height of rush hour. A huge crater sits in the middle the street, one big enough to eat up a large tow truck. Now it is time to assess the damage.
It happened just before 6:00 p.m. near 41st Street between 3rd Avenue and Lexington Avenue, and in the first moments after it hit there was chaos.
People running through the streets, sirens blaring, and a loud thunderous roar: It's a scene those who witnessed it will certainly never forget. Eyewitness Carol Bergendale described the scene on Eyewitness News. She said that there was a roar that lasted for over 10 minutes. When it hit, she says she started seeing cars driving the wrong way down Third Avenue trying to get away from whatever was happening. She says she saw cars hitting buses, cars driving on the sidewalk, and people running everywhere. She says in those first moments, everyone feared a terror attack.
People left many things behind: Shoes, paperwork scattered on the streets.
Just after 8:20 p.m. Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a news conference and confirmed that one person died after the blast, and that more than 20 people had been hurt. He assured New Yorkers it was not a deliberate act, but a natural disaster.
"There is no reason to believe that any terrorism was involved whatsoever. It was probably just the failure of part of our infrastructure," said Mayor Bloomberg.
The mayor said the pipe that blew was installed in 1924. He said that the most likely cause is cold water getting into the pipe, which apparently can cause these pipes to explode. He said that cold water could have entered the system from a watermain break, or from the heavy rain the area experienced earlier in the day. That exact cause was still under investigation.
The site of this explosion is mixed use: Retail, offices and apartments. Thousands of people are affected, thousands who were told they'd have to evacuate and who have no idea how long they'll be out of their apartments, no idea what kind of damage happened inside or what has happened to their pets.
Eyewitness News' Jeff Rossen spoke with some of them and found them frustrated, many stranded and not sure what to do next. Some just sat on crates near the scene for hours, just waiting to go home. The FDNY has no clear answer yet how long it will be before they can.
One man described particles of stones flying up as high as the 27th floor of the building he was in.
One Dead, Many Hurt
The man who died after the blast died from cardiac arrest. A doctor told Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Pegues that the shock of the blast could have been the cause. More than twenty other people were injured.
The mayor pointed out how lucky the city was that more people were not hurt. He pointed out that the street where this happened is normally very busy, but that it didn't happen to be at the moment this happened.
Most of the victims were immediately rushed to Bellevue Hospital, which went into disaster mode when word came of the disaster. They washed down each injured survivor who rolled in, not sure exactly what kind of contamination they could have been exposed to.
The pipe that exploded may have been wrapped in asbestos. When the pipe exploded, asbestos may have gone everywhere. Testing for asbestos got underway not long after the explosion. Eyewitness News' Jen Maxfield said the city expects to find out overnight whether the pipe was indeed wrapped in asbestos. Until proven otherwise, the city is assuming it was released into the air in the blast. Another question people want answered: What was in all that brown debris and water that blew into the air.
Emergency workers set up a decontamination site near the scene, and city officials had some advice for people who were exposed, especially those who ended up coated in the debris: Wash thoroughly and put the clothes you were wearing in a plastic bag. Officials said they'd update people on what they know about the debris as they learn more.
The city has declared a frozen zone around the scene. As of late Wednesday night, it included the area from 40th Street to 43rd Street From Third Avenue to Vanderbilt.
Subway and Bus Service Affected
As of late Wednesday night, the following subway and bus changes were in effect because of the blast.
As of late Wednesday night:
The mayor said Wednesday evening that some Verizon service was disrupted, along with electrical feeder cables in three different networks. There was no indication of any big power outages.
Millions of pounds of steam are pumped beneath New York City streets every hour, heating and cooling thousands of buildings, including the Empire State Building. The steam pipes are sometimes prone to rupture, however.
In 1989, a gigantic steam explosion ripped through a street, killing three people and sending mud and debris several stories into the air.That explosion was caused by a condition known as "water hammer," the result of condensation of water inside a steam pipe.
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