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A 24-inch steam pipe exploded near Grand Central Terminal yesterday, sending scalding sprayand debris into the air and causing a brief panic about another terror attack as people ran for cover during the evening rush.Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the blast was not terrorism related and at least one fatality — an apparent heart attack victim — was reported last night.
More than 20 were hurt, at least four seriously. Three firefighters and one police officer suffered minor injuries.In the hours following the 5:57 p.m. incident at 41st Street and Lexington Avenue, trains along the 4, 5 and 6 lines were halted in both directions and buses were rerouted. The Times Square shuttle train was stopped, and 7 trains were bypassing Grand Central.
Crews were working to restore service last night. Many streets were closed. A geyser of steam continued to erupt from the center of 41st Street hours after the initial explosion, which left a large crater. ConEd spokesman Alfonso Quiroz said crews were isolating the steam rupturelast night and were assessing potential collateral damage to its electrical network.
“We’re also testing for asbestos right now,” Quiroz said.
“It does not appear that anything released down into the subway,” said Bloomberg, who noted the pipe was installed in 1924, “relatively new” when compared to other pipes throughout the city. “There is no reason to believe whatsoever this is anything other than a failure of our infrastructure.”
When the blast hit, Jack O’Brien was in a drug store in the basement of Grand Central, buying an item for his restaurant on 40th Street near Lexington.He heard the explosion and was told to leave.
“I stepped out into Grand Central, and there was a panic going on,” he said.“You could feel a vibration, and you heard hissing and, like, minor explosions. We didn’t know what they were, but women were running out of their shoes. The ramp leading out of GrandCentral was filled with shoes, just women running barefeet, many of them crying.Lots of panic, lots of panic without really knowing what’s going on.”
There were no police, O’Brien said. “When I came out on Park Avenue, I could see billowing black smoke on 41st Street.”
He thought two buildings were on fire, “but they were just engulfed in this black smoke,” O’Brien said. “It was shooting up bricks and debris, like a volcano.” When O’Brien got back to his restaurant, he found the door open. “The lights were on, and food was on the tables, but it was empty,” he said. “Everybody just ran.”
Police had evacuated the surrounding blocks, he said, because there was fear a building might come down.
Musician Pete Smith was eating in a restaurant on 40th and Third when he heard theexplosion. “I just ran, I ran straight down Third Avenue,” Smith said. “I thought it was a terrorist attack. I ran all the way to the 20s. I turned around and saw smoke so I thought a building had gone down. It just kept going and going and going.”
Ramon Rondon was on the 17th floor of a building at Lexington and 41st Street.“All of a sudden we heard a boom, and we took a look out the window — but it was a quick look,” he said.“Everything was shaking, so we hit the stairs, about 15, 20 people. Once we reached the lobby, whichever way, we ran.”
Last night Rondon was still waiting behind a police barricade, hoping he could return to the building to collect his wallet and clothes. He was covered in dust. “There were bricks, flyingstones all over the place,” Rondon said. “A lot of people got hurt on the head. I didn’t think it was anything — I was just running for my life.”
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