On Thursday morning, a steam pipe ruptured in the flatiron district of Manhattan producing a thick geyser of white smoke and debris that contained asbestos.
According to the New York Times, five people suffered minor injuries when the pipe burst; however, no one was seriously injured. City officials said the hole in the street caused by the rupture was about the length of one and a half cars, and that it was one car length wide.
Police had closed off several intersections, shutting down traffic on major thoroughfares, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that subway trains were being rerouted and bypassing stations. Offices in the area were also advising employees to take alternate routes to work.
The city is still investigating the cause of the explosion. A total of 49 buildings had been evacuated due to the explosion. Fifth Avenue between 19th and 22nd streets remained closed. A network of steam piping meanders underneath New York City, and explosions are not uncommon.
Mayor Bill de Blasio stated during a news conference that test results showed that there was asbestos in the steam line, which raised concern about the long term effects of the exposure due to the debris. Officials will work to determine when they will be safe to enter, the mayor said.
The blast startled those in the area, some of whom immediately braced for the worst.
“I knew either it was a World Trade Center kind of thing or a plane crash,” said Doreen Black, who was in bed in her apartment at 22nd Street and Broadway when the explosion occurred. “That was my fear.”
Ms. Black, who has lived there since 1991, said she expected to be evacuated, so she started packing up a suitcase.
“I took down my little wheelie from the closet and started packing,” Ms. Black said. “My husband thought I was crazy. He went back to sleep.”
According fire commissioner, Daniel A. Nigro, about 100 firefighters who responded to the explosion were expected to be treated in asbestos decontamination units, and two decontamination centers for the general public were set up in the area. Con Edison, which operates the system of steam piping, said that the explosion also disrupted some underground power and gas lines but did not cause outages.
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