A steam pipe explosion in the Flatiron District of Manhattan shut down the busy area during Thursday’s morning rush hour. The explosion left thick sheets of billowing smoke floating over Manhattan and an enormous crater in the middle of the street as first responders worked to clear the normally bustling morning traffic out of the area.
According to NBC New York, “no immediate injuries were reported in the 6:30 a.m. blast near Fifth Avenue and 21st Street.” Smoke continued to blanket the Flatiron district 90 minutes after the incident and chunks of asphalt and debris littered the streets, but authorities continued to work on isolating the source of the blast.
According to NBC New York, “the smoke turned white, then gray, then black and continued to alternate colors, indicating the possible presence of a fire underneath the ground. Water also filled the street near the hole in the ground, but there was no immediate confirmation of a main break.”
Several buildings in the immediate area have been evacuated as a precaution and West 19th Street to West 23rd Street, from 6th Avenue to Broadway are closed to vehicle traffic while responders work to contain the source of the explosion, NBC7 New York reports.
According to NBC New York, the blast comes almost exactly 11 years to the day of a steam pipe incident that happened near Grand Central. An explosion in July, 2007, shot debris 40 stories high in the air, raining mud down on midtown. Authorities claimed an 83-year-old underground pipe near the transit hub failed, causing the explosion.
Authorities are investigating no less than five steam pipes that they believe exploded in the Flatiron district at this time, but the blast remains under investigation.
A spokesman for the Fire Department of New York said a call came in at about 6:39 a.m. for a “high-pressure steam explosion” in the neighborhood near Madison Square Park. About an hour later, 25 firetrucks and more than 100 firefighters and medical personnel were on scene, reports the Wall Street Journal. There were no injuries or deaths, the FDNY said.
“It’s big,” said the spokesman. “It’s not smoke, it’s steam. But it still has to be something where buildings are evacuated.”
Bystander Ernest Hinnant, who works in the area of the explosion, told the Wall Street Journal that he noticed steam when he got off the subway at Union Square just before 6:45 a.m. He assumed it came from a restaurant, but when he turned down 5th Avenue, he saw a “cloud plume and heard the roar of steam.”
“There’s a solid sort of substance coming out of the cloud that’s sort of coating the ground. At first I honestly thought that the solid substance was ash and it was a fire, but it’s just gray and not ash,” Hinnant told the Wall Street Journal.
He said the explosion put two holes in the street, a larger hole on 5th Avenue and 21st and another just south of 5th Avenue and 20th Street, the Wall Street Journal reports.
“It’s still totally happening, it’s just like a huge roaring sound,” Mr. Hinnant said. “I can see two cars kind of under the cloud, they’re totally covered in whatever is falling out of the thing.”
The cause of Thursday’s blast remains under investigation, but authorities do not believe the explosion to be criminal or suspicious at this time.
This is a developing story. Heavy will update as more information is known.