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Fifth Avenue steam explosion led to NYC subway changes, street disruption (update)

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The steam pipe explosion was reported shortly before 7 a.m. and caused major disruptions but no injuries

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A steam pipe exploded shortly before 7 a.m. in the Flatiron District, snarling traffic and disrupting the morning commute for many New Yorkers. “Very minor injuries” were reported by several people, according to the New York Times, and no structural damage to the surrounding buildings has been reported so far.

About 25 firetrucks and 100 firefighters were at the scene of the explosion, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 21st Street, shortly after the incident, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Firefighters were clearing out people from the surrounding buildings as a precautionary measure, while some news outlets reported people being covered in debris from the explosion. In a press conference this afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed that there was asbestos in the pipe, and as a precaution, the “core area” around the explosion—Fifth Avenue between 19th and 22nd streets—will be closed until further notice. While the air quality is currently okay, there are other issues that need to be addressed—namely, the presence of contaminated debris on the street or in buildings. “There is real concern about whether any debris entered into buildings or into air conditioning systems,” De Blasio said during the presser. He also noted that the city would “do all we can” to help those who may be displaced by the explosion.

Con Edison, which oversees the running of these pipes, has advised those that came in contact with the debris to bag their clothing and take a shower due to potential presence of asbestos or other contaminants. Decontamination areas have also been set up near the site.

The explosion caused several streets around the site to shutter as a result of the investigation and ongoing FDNY activity, and also led to major transit disruptions. Trains bypassed the 23rd Street station for several hours, several buses were also detoured because of the explosion.

In the aftermath, the city’s Department of Emergency Management has set up a reception center on 15th Street for those affected by the incident:

Governor Andrew Cuomo also announced that he has directed the state’s Department of Public Service to conduct an investigation into the event. At this time, what may have led to the explosion is unknown.

City Council speaker Corey Johnson was one of the first public officials at the site and captured some startling video and photos of the incident.