Friday, July 20, 2007

Explosion Tears Through New York In Replay Of September 11 Panic

Taken from The Mail, UK, 20th July 2007

In a city scarred for ever by terror, they could have been forgiven for fearing the worst.

With visions of 9/11 flashing through their minds, hundreds of workers poured out of skyscrapers when a blast ripped through central Manhattan.

Shoppers ran for cover, dodging flying rubble, and a truck was swallowed when the tarmac opened up into a giant crater.

A man guides a woman covered in mud and blood through the streets after the explosion. One person died of an apparent heart attack

In their terror, people ran so fast from the blast that they left their shoes behind on the pavement

As the dust settled, a 120ft-high geyser of boiling, brown-coloured water was left shooting into the air, its steam shrouding landmarks including the Chrysler Building.

A woman died of a heart attack and at least 30 were injured, some seriously.

When it became known that this was not a terror attack, but an explosion in an underground steam pipe, the relief was tangible.

A firefighter and a man watch the steam billow near the Chrysler building (right). The explosion tore through New York just before 6pm last night. The initial burst of steam went higher than the Chrysler building

Many immediately thought of 9/11 as panic ensued in the rubble-covered New York streets

"We ran down 43 floors thinking we were going to die,' said Megan Fletcher, 35, who works for an Australian company in the Chrysler Building.

"It looked like when the buildings collapsed on 9/11."

Karyn Easton, a customer at a salon a few blocks from the blast, said: "We were scared to death. It sounded like a bomb went off, just like 9/11. People were hysterical, crying, running down the street."

A tow truck was sucked into the road by the blast

The explosion happened near East 41st Street and Lexington Avenue on Wednesday.

Yesterday, with around 20 blocks around the area still closed to traffic, the fear was that dust from the asbestos which insulates some of the underground piping network may have been released into the atmosphere.

Air samples tested negative, but some samples from debris and dust were positive, emergency officials said.

Residents were warned to keep their windows closed and air conditioners set to recirculate internally. Those exposed to debris and dust were instructed to wash thoroughly and discard soiled clothing.

Workers protected against asbestos examine the crater caused by the explosion

Engineers warned that an area up to 6ft around the crater might be in danger of collapse.

Many of the injured were struck by falling chunks of asphalt or rock that had been blasted out of the ground.

Casualties included several firemen and policeman Robert Mirfield, who helped evacuate 75 people trapped in an office building by cutting open a gate.

The cause of the rupture was under investigation. Officials said the pipe, installed in 1924, might have exploded under extreme pressure caused by an infiltration of cold rainwater, or might have been damaged by a water main break.

The site of the explosion had been inspected hours before the blast as part of a routine response to heavy rains that flooded parts of the city.

Millions of pounds of steam are pumped beneath the streets of Manhattan every hour, heating and cooling thousands of buildings, including the Empire State Building.

The systems are normally inspected every six weeks.

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