An underground steam pipe explosion tore through a Manhattan street near Grand Central Terminal on Wednesday, swallowing a tow truck and killing one person as hundreds of others ran for cover amid a towering geyser of steam and flying rubble in scenes reminiscent of the panic after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the explosion was not terrorism, though the blast caused a brief panic about a possible attack.
"There is no reason to believe whatsoever that this is anything other than a failure of our infrastructure," he said of the 60cm steam pipe installed in 1924.
One person was pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital from an apparent heart attack, Bloomberg said. About 30 people were injured, at least four seriously. Authorities could not immediately account for how the most seriously wounded victims had been injured.
The explosion caused widespread chaos as residents and commuters heard a huge blast -- and feared for the worst. Thousands of commuters evacuated the train terminal, some at a run, after workers yelled for people to get out of the building.
A geyser of steam and mud shot from the center of the blast, generating a tremendous roar. The initial burst of steam rose higher than the nearby 77-story Chrysler Building, one of Manhattan's tallest buildings.
A city bus was abandoned in the middle of Lexington Avenue, covered with grit. A woman who was bleeding profusely was being helped by police while a man lay on a stretcher in the street.
Soot fell from the sky, covering some pedestrians. Others looked wet. The sky was blackened. And people wandered aimlessly, not knowing where to go.
Debbie Tontodonato, 40, a manager for Clear Channel Outdoor, said she thought the rumble from the 6pm explosion was thunder.
"I looked out the window and I saw these huge chunks that I thought were hail," she said. "We panicked, I think everyone thought the worst. Thank God it wasn't. It was like a cattle drive going down the stairs, with everyone pushing. I almost fell down the stairs."
Heiko Thieme, an investment banker, had mud splattered on his face, pants and shoes. He said the explosion was like a volcano.
"Everybody was a bit confused, everybody obviously thought of 9/11," Thieme said.
Streets were closed on several blocks in all directions. Subway service in the area was suspended.
The Buildings Department determined late on Wednesday that nearby buildings were structurally sound but suffered some water damage and broken windows. Several feet of street near the 7.5m crater was in danger of collapse.
There were also concerns about what was spewed into the air. Some of the pipes carrying steam through the city are wrapped in asbestos. "The big fear that we have is there may or may not have been asbestos release," Bloomberg said.
Officials won't know the test results until later, the mayor said.
The steam cleared around 8pm, exposing a crater several feet wide in the street. A red tow truck lay at the bottom of the hole.
Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert said workers were still trying to determine what caused the blast. Kevin Burke, the head of the utility, said the site had been inspected earlier on Wednesday after heavy rains flooded parts of the city, but crews found nothing at that time.
Millions of kilograms of steam are pumped beneath New York City streets every hour, heating and cooling thousands of buildings, including the Empire State Building.
The steam pipes are sometimes prone to rupture, however. In 1989, a gigantic steam explosion ripped through a street, killing three people and sending mud and debris several stories into the air.
That explosion was caused by a condition known as a "water hammer," the result of condensation of water inside a steam pipe. The sudden mix of hot steam and cool water can cause pressure to skyrocket, bursting the pipe.
SCHEDULE: The delegation is due to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen this morning and witness the signing of an MOU on bilateral health cooperation in the afternoon US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar yesterday arrived in Taipei aboard a US government plane at the head of a delegation that is the highest-level visit by a US official since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979. Azar’s flight landed at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) at 4:48pm, nearly one hour earlier than scheduled, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The apron where it landed is reserved for military aircraft, the Songshan Air Force Base Command said. The members of Azar’s delegation included HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, HHS Chief of Staff Brian
CHINESE FIGHTERS: Beijing marked the US Cabinet member’s visit by briefly sending two warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait yesterday morning President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday met with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in the highest-level official meeting between the two nations since 1979. “It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from [US] President [Donald] Trump to Taiwan,” Azar said during the open portion of his courtesy call to the Presidential Office, which was streamed live online before Tsai and Azar held a closed-door meeting. “Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent,
PARTNERSHIP AND LEARNING: A Princeton University health policy researcher said that the nation would be a ‘treasure trove’ of information for the US health chief US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on Friday said he wants to learn about Taiwan’s “incredibly effective” response to COVID-19, even though the nation did things that the US has fumbled, such as having a unified strategy and citizens willing to wear masks. Azar leads a US delegation arriving today for a three-day visit to Taiwan. They are to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and health system leaders, and Azar is to give a speech to public health graduates. “The message of this trip is about Taiwan,” Azar said in an interview, deflecting a question about China.
Taiwanese-independence advocates yesterday accused former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of breaking national security laws and called on the judiciary to investigate after his statement that “China will wage a battle, which will be quick and will be the last battle for Taiwan.” Ma showed his true colors “as a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party” in his speech on Monday when he said the “first battle will be the last,” Taiwan Republic Office (台灣國辦公室) director Chilly Chen (陳峻涵) said. “Ma is threatening Taiwanese by claiming that Beijing will launch a quick invasion of Taiwan, but that the US military will have no