Hundreds displaced in NYC by steam pipe explosion

- As many as 500 people remain out of their homes and businesses after a steam pipe explosion spewed asbestos-laden vapor into the air in Manhattan's Flatiron District.

A steam pipe installed in 1932 exploded Thursday morning hurling chunks of asphalt and sending a geyser of billowing white steam several stories high. The 20-inch high-pressure steam leak beneath Fifth Avenue at the intersection with East 21st Street created a huge break in the ground.

Testing confirmed asbestos in the pipe's casing. While tests showed the air in the area had cleared and is safe, health officials remain concerned about debris containing asbestos.

First responders evacuated 49 buildings as a precaution. Several in the immediate area will remain closed for several days, the mayor said, as workers check buildings for contaminants and cleanup begins.

Department of Environmental Protection crews found debris on the exteriors of 35 buildings and are now checking the insides.

Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito said that buildings and sidewalks will need to be meticulously cleaned before tenants can return home or to work.

Con Edison spokesman Alfonso Quiroz said that crews will go into the hole to examine the pipe after the cleanup. They will take out the pipe and try to figure out what happened.

Eight people suffered minor injuries including five civilians, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. None required hospitalization.

A hundred firefighters responded shortly after the explosion at 6:39 a.m.

Con Edison advised people to stay clear of the rupture area as a precaution to avoid asbestos and other contaminants.

Anyone who may have gotten material on their clothing should shower immediately and bag the clothing as a precaution, officials said.

Two decontamination sites were set up at 22nd Street and 19th Street off Fifth Avenue.

The explosion affected subway service for a few hours as trains bypassed the 23rd Street Station. MTA buses were also detoured.

Multiples streets were closed in the area including a stretch of Fifth Avenue. That caused a mess of the morning commute. The same was anticipated for the evening rush because certain streets will remain closed until sometime this weekend. The city sent out an alert suggesting that motorists consider alternate routes and allow for additional travel time.

This "hot zone" remains off-limits to the public:

  • 5th Avenue from 19th Street to 22nd Street (midway down the block on 19th Street and most of 20th Street and 21st Street on the west side)
  • East 20th Street and 21st Street and midway down the block on East 19th Street

These blocks remain closed to traffic:

  • West 20th and West 21st Streets between 6th Avenue and Broadway
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