NEW YORK (AP) – A steam pipe exploded beneath Fifth Avenue in Manhattan early Thursday, hurling chunks of asphalt flying, sending a geyser of billowing white steam stories into the air and forcing pedestrians to take cover.
No injuries were reported, but Con Ed, which owns the subterranean pipe, warned people who may have gotten material on them to bag their clothes and shower immediately as a precaution against possible asbestos.
Buildings along several blocks of Fifth Avenue have been evacuated as a precaution.
The high-pressure steam leak was reported at around 6:40 a.m. The steam was still billowing about 10 stories high two hours later.
WABC reported there also were manhole explosions from West 19th Street to West 21st streets. Some subway trains were bypassing the area.
“I was riding my Citi Bike to work and just as I was crossing Fifth Avenue around 25th Street, I looked down Fifth Avenue and saw smoke coming,” Jerry Bonura, who works at a consulting firm, told the Daily News. The “cloud wasn’t too big at first, but I could tell it probably wasn’t a fire since the smoke was lightly colored as opposed to dark colored from a building fire, and I heard kind of a windy/blowing noise coming from it.”
“I looked around and saw this big huge plume of steam shoot into the air,” said Daniel Lizio-Katzen, 42, who was riding his bike home to the West Village.
“It was a pretty violent explosion,” 42-year-old Daniel Lizio-Katzen told the newspaper. “The steam was shooting up into the air about 70 feet. It was pushing up at such a high pressure that it was spewing all of this dirt and debris. The cars around were coated in mud … It left a huge crater in the middle of the street.”
Brendan Walsh, 22, a senior at New York University, had just gotten off a train and was headed to class when he saw the plume.
“The billows were about six stories high. There was a large scatter of debris,” he said. “I was standing behind the police line when a Con Cd worker came rushing over and screaming at police and firefighters to push everyone north because he was worried that there could be secondary manhole explosions.”
“Everyone – including the police and firefighters who were standing by – started moving back,” he said.
Businesses were braced for the worst as the response dragged on, crippling their neighborhood and their workday.
Police and firefighters blocked access to buildings close to the explosion, including the one where Paul Schweitzer runs what he called with a twinkle in his eye “a very important service that New Yorkers rely on” – the Gramercy Typewriter repair company.
“I hope our customers will forgive our tardy service today,” said Schweitzer, sitting at a table on a nearby pedestrian plaza.