I work in midtown Manhattan, and as I was closing up my computer last night, I heard thunder that didn't stop. When the horns started honking outside, I got up to see hundreds of people running up Third Avenue, weaving through standstill traffic, yelling on their cell phones and looking back over their shoulders at the sky.
I headed outside to ask a few questions, mainly, "What is that roaring?" It sounded like a tornado had hit Grand Central and just stayed there.
By the time I got outside, there were fewer people running and more people standing around, trying to find out what happened.
"Some rocks crashed through my bosses window," one woman said.
"I heard it was the Chrysler Building," said another.
Finally, someone from my building said that her husband had called from Grand Central to say that an underground transformer had blown up. At that point, I went back inside to e-mail The Chef , in case he was worried because he couldn't get through to my cell. That's when a buddy at work told me about the four-story geyser of steam and brown water that was spraying up out of the intersection of 41st and Lexington.
I had to go see. I was relieved that this wasn't terrorists trying to interrupt my commute. It was a freak accident--a New York Event, like the blackout or the rockslide that took out part of the West Side Highway last year.
As I got closer to the site of the explosion, the roaring grew louder. At 42nd St. and Third, I snapped the first picture. I took the second at 41st and Third. Watching the steam pound out of the street was surreal. The ground shook, and people were shouting over the noise.
Now this is where my ambulance-chasing genes come in. The police were starting to cordon off the surrounding blocks, pushing people back and telling them to go around. I had started walking across town to catch the West side train home, when I found a plaza alleyway that lead to 41st, between Lexington and Third. There were no policemen blocking the way, and I knew that I'd have an unobstructed view of the geyser at the end of the alley. I hesitated--what if another explosion went off? What if more debris started falling? In the end, I decided to go because there was scaffolding around the building at the end of the alley. I figured it was designed to catch hammers and large men if they were dropped, so it would probably protect me from the fist-sized chunks of pavement that had fallen when the geyser started.
I shot the third picture from the alley, a half-block from the geyser. There were a few people standing under the scaffolding, just staring at the steam. We couldn't talk over the deafening sound, and I saw that the windows in the building across the street were rattling with each billow of steam that poured out. It looked like most of the intersection had been blown away by the force.
On the radio this morning, I heard that the city is checking the air around Grand Central for asbestos. That thought never occurred to me, so hopefully nothing will come of it. (Update: no asbestos in the air.)
It was a sight to see... something I never imagined I'd witness in the city. I can't imagine having something like that happen in the street beside me just as I'm heading home from work. Now it may be a while before I stop thinking about that possibility.