Huge Steam Pipe Blast Kills One in NYC

By ADAM GOLDMAN
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 19, 2007; 1:09 AM

NEW YORK -- 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. 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 24-inch 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 were 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 6 p.m. 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 H. 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."

Streets were closed in several blocks in all directions. Subway service in the area was suspended.

The Buildings Department determined late Wednesday that nearby buildings were structurally sound but suffered some water damage and broken windows. Several feet of street near the 25-foot crater was in danger of collapse.


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