Residents in the Flatiron district of Manhattan woke to the sounds of an explosion as a 100-year-old pipe burst beneath the street. According to the New York Times, the explosion happened around 6:40 a.m. Thursday morning. The pipe had burst, “producing a thick geyser of white smoke and debris that the authorities said was probably contaminated with asbestos.”
Though there were no major injuries, five people were hit with debris as asphalt and concrete were thrown hundreds of feet into the air. At least 49 buildings in the vicinity of 21st Street and Fifth Avenue had to be evacuated. Commuters this morning were also delayed due to the explosion.
Residents who had been exposed to the debris were told by city officials to place any exposed clothing in a bag and to shower to remove the debris.
Nearly 100 firefighters responded to the scene. Each of them was taken to decontamination centers. Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro stated that “two decontamination centers for the general public were set up in the area.”
“We are operating with an abundance of caution, of course. There is a problem with exposure, but how dangerous, the health department will have to evaluate that,” he said, adding that samples of the debris had been sent for testing to confirm if there was, in fact, asbestos.
If the testing confirms asbestos, city officials have stated that the exposed area will need to be decontaminated. The process will take days, and residents along Fifth Avenue might need to temporarily relocate.
People who were exposed to the explosion initially were provided with decontamination steps, but according to The Weather Channel, officials say there’s no threat for any lasting asbestos exposure.
The pipe had been installed in 1932. New York City Council speaker Corey Johnson tweeted a video of the incident, saying it was a “miracle no one was hurt.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the incident Thursday afternoon.
“There was asbestos in the steam line casing, [but] the air cleared fairly quickly after the incident. There is no meaningful presence of asbestos in the air at this point.”
Despite this, those handling clean up and checking the buildings for asbestos will be wearing masks. De Blasio added that there was no work “being done on the pipe at the time,” and that it is still unclear as to what caused the pipe to burst.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is urging the Department of Public Service to “conduct a full investigation into the cause of this explosion and determine whether any utility activities contributed to it,” according to the Los Angeles Times.