New York City Rocked by Underground Steam Pipe Explosion. One Dead More than 30 Injured, Four Critically

A steam pipe used by Con Edison in New York City violently exploded yesterday, injuring more than 30 people, and leaving one dead. The force of the explosion in Manhattan left a 25-foot crater in the NYC street and sent a giant plume of steam and debris hundreds of feet into the air.

The blast occurred at 5:47 p.m. at East 41st and Lexington Avenue. Mayor Michael Bloomberg promptly announced that New York City was not under terrorist attack, saying instead that an aging steam pipe had exploded underground. The Mayor characterized the blast as a “failure of our infrastructure”. The pipe, which was installed in the NYC street in 1924, could have exploded as a result of cold water collecting around it. The 24-inch pipe is part of a network used by the Con Edison Steam Business Unit to provide heat to 1,800 buildings in Manhattan. New York City has had heavy rain recently, and if cold water collected around the pipe, it could have created a “vapor condition”, causing the steam inside to condense. Eventually the pressure inside the pipe would have caused the <"">steam pipe to explode. Con Edison said that the pipe involved in this incident had been inspected six weeks ago.

Of the 30 people injured in the blast, three were NYC firefighters and one was a police officer. One person died as the result of cardiac arrest. Sixteen people where taken to Bellevue Hospital Center. Two of those patients were being treated in the hospital’s trauma unit, but the rest were released. Two people are in critical condition at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical. One of those patients included a tow truck drive whose truck was swallowed up by the crater created in the blast. He is being treated for severe burns.

The explosion hit at the height of rush hour near Grand Central Terminal, creating chaos throughout Manhattan. The area around the blast was covered with ash, soot and mud. That, coupled with the sight of commuters fleeing the scene of the explosion, reminded many witnesses of the 9/11 attacks.

New York City officials have imposed a “frozen zone” closed to traffic from 40th Street to 43rd Street and from Vanderbilt Avenue to Third Avenue to investigate the explosion. The city is also concerned that asbestos could have been discharged during the explosion. They were awaiting test results for air and debris samples, but in the meantime they have urged anyone who had contact with debris to wash with soap and water. Clothes that were covered in soot should be stored separately in a plastic bag. Anyone inside buildings near the blast site should keep windows closed and switch their air-conditioners to re-circulate the air.

Subway service in the city has also been disrupted due to major problems on the Lexington Avenue Line. Officials have not said when full service will be restored.

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