Police evacuate Times Square, investigate apparent car bomb

By Reuters
Sunday, May 2, 2010; A04

NEW YORK -- Police evacuated Times Square on Saturday night after finding what they described as an apparent car bomb in a dark-colored sport-utility vehicle. A small "flash" was observed by firefighters on the scene.

"This appears to be a car bomb that the bomb squad is in the process of dismantling," police spokesman Paul Browne said. "We do not know the motive."

Browne said an NYPD mounted policeman spotted a box smoking in the back of the SUV and that the area was evacuated.

A New York Fire Department official told Reuters that the vehicle was found to contain explosives, gasoline, propane and burned wires. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said law enforcement officials were treating the vehicle as a "failed device."

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) was returning to the city Saturday night after the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where he traditionally stays to host an exclusive after-party. "He's on the way back," a Bloomberg official told a Washington Post reporter shortly after 11 p.m., speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Officers at the scene said the evacuation order stemmed from an "emergency investigation" and dozens of officers blocked access to the busy central Manhattan square, which is popular with tourists and theatergoers.

The SUV is parked near a production of "The Lion King" on 45th Street. Women in evening gowns were among the crowd on one of the warmest nights of the year and the busiest night of the week for Broadway theaters in the area.

Vehicle and pedestrian traffic was heavy on streets outside the evacuation zone, including Sixth and Eighth avenues. All intersections in the area were blocked by police and fire department vehicles.

A New York City firefighter who said he arrived early on the scene said the vehicle was parked at 45th Street and Seventh Avenue.

He confirmed that the vehicle was smoking and also said he saw "a flash" from the back of the SUV. The firefighter said a "mini-explosion" occurred between 6 and 6:30 p.m.

"The SUV was smoking. There was a flash and we put two and two together" and an evacuation was ordered, he said.

Other emergency personnel on the scene called the incident a "car fire."

The firefighter said the bomb squad remained at the scene as of 9 p.m., including a firefighter in a bomb suit. A robot was being used to investigate the vehicle.

Reuters reporters on the scene said they heard an explosion about 9:15 p.m. An NYPD community affairs officer said that another small explosion heard by bystanders were the sound of water cannons aimed at the vehicle in an attempt to break the glass.

Two firetrucks were also at the scene, prepared to douse the vehicle with water if needed, the firefighter said.

Police allowed some people to enter theaters to view Broadway shows in the vicinity but later blocked other theatergoers from entering.

The square itself was mostly evacuated by 8 p.m., according to the Reuters reporters. Police had evacuated an area stretching from about 42nd Street up to 47th Street and including Seventh Avenue and Broadway.

A Reuters reporter said police began to broaden the evacuation area about 9:30 p.m., with crowds on 45th Street being pushed back from Times Square to Eighth Avenue to the west and Sixth Avenue to the east.

Tourists in the area expressed annoyance and amusement. Nam Vu, 24, said he had arrived by bus in New York at 8 a.m. from Canada and was prevented from meeting a friend at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square.

"I feel like I'm on a TV show," he said. "Where is [actor] Denzel Washington?"

People inside theaters and restaurants on Times Square were generally allowed to stay, or to depart the area, but only police and firefighters were being allowed in.

People dining inside the Blue Fin restaurant in a hotel at 47th and Broadway were allowed to stay.

Washington Post staff writer Jason Horowitz contributed to this article.

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