CHELSEA, MANHATTAN, NY (PIX11)—An explosion rocked one of the busiest retail and tourist areas of Manhattan, leaving two men hurt and hundreds running to safety on or near the High Line elevated park. The accidental blast also left some eyewitnesses thinking the explosion was intentional and meant to do harm.
It happened in an 18-foot deep crater around 10:30 this morning. Most of the hole had already been dug by a front end loader to help the 15 workers on the site of a former gas station under the High Line remove six 6,000 gallon gas tanks. But the hole took an extra impact, while the workers were doing their job.
"It's visceral." Matt Shapoff, who works in a shop across the street from the worksite, told PIX11 News. "It kind of hits you in the chest."
At the scene, the impact of the explosion threw two workers against the fence of the former Mobil gas station that's being environmentally rehabilitated in order to be converted into shops. Medics took the men to Bellevue Hospital to check for internal injuries they may have suffered from the impact.
"It was a violent explosion," said Battalion Chief Mike Myers, who commanded the nearly one dozen fire vehicles that responded to the scene. "As they were cutting that steel, a spark from the saw as they were cutting caused the tank to heat, which caused the gas indide the tank to explode."
The area is full of shoppers, workers and tourists just about all of the time, with the Apple Store at one end of the block, Chelsea Market next door, and the very popular High Line Park running through Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, where this took place. But on a pleasant and sunny Friday, the area was particularly crowded when it was shaken up. Among many people who ran away or thought they had to, just one thing went through their minds.
"A bomb," said William Hill, the gardening supervisor. "Of course you know you're always thinking about that, especially where we're at. That's why you're always thinking about leaving."
Ken Fisher, a spokesperson for the owner of the site, said that the two injured men walked into the waiting ambulances, and are expected to be treated and released from the hospital.
Inspectors from the Department of Buildings issued a stop work order for the site while they check to ensure the scene is safe. Both Fisher and Chief Myers told PIX11 News that the construction site is current on all of its required permits.
Inspectors and fire officials stayed on the scene for hours after the explosion to make sure the support pillars of the High Line, which surround the impact zone, are secure. They determined that they were, and by 1:30 in the afternoon, the world-famous elevated park reopened.