Two explosions rock Sunset Park

Two explosions rock Sunset Park
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

It was an explosive night in Sunset Park.

An underground fire caused two blasts that shook 45th Street on April 19, heaving manhole covers 10 feet into the air, and shrouding the block in smoke. The explosions triggered a frenzy of Sunset Parkers scrambling for safety as they feared the worst, said one resident.

“With everything going on in the world, I heard that loud ‘BOOM’ and immediately thought ‘Bomb,’ ” said local Carina Wexler, who was walking home with her 6-year-old son. “The whole block shook and there was a ton of smoke. I grabbed my son and just started running as fast as I could.”

A fleet of fire trucks arrived on 45th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues shortly before the blasts as some residents’ carbon monoxide alarms went off. Firefighters were in the middle of evacuating a handful of homes when the first manhole shot into the sky just after 6 pm, according to one evacuee who was standing a few feet away.

“I watched it shoot up and thought, ‘That is going to do some serious damage,’ ” said Matt Landolf, who was forced to flee his home with his shoeless 8-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.

Fortunately, the manhole didn’t land on anyone and narrowly missed crushing a car. The eruption blew out the window of a nearby home and littered stoops with metal shrapnel. Residents’ lights flickered and one woman watched her dinning room chandelier sway as the house shook.

“I felt everything shudder,” said Marie Moore, who was eating dinner when she felt the explosion. “I came outside and knew something was going on when I saw all of the commotion.”

Then a second eruption rocked the block about 20 minutes later. The blast blew out a window of a parked van and littered nearby stoops with metal shards.

Thick smoke poured out of the manholes and flooded into the open doors and windows of evacuated homes. The fumes fogged the block, as police sent gawking locals inside and told them to close their doors.

Firefighters got the scene under control and allowed the evacuees back into their homes just after 9 pm, but the power went out shortly after and stayed out until roughly 5 am — though some are still without power — according to Landolf. And another neighbor is dealing with a flooded basement after a pipe burst during the ordeal, he said.

The series of events were triggered by an electrical fire, said a Consolidated Edison rep on the scene. Utility workers on April 20 ventured below ground and hauled out fried electrical cable. Repairs may take several days, according to the rep.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
The cavalry: A fleet of firetrucks responded to the blasts that spewed toxic smoke into the street and nearby homes.
Matt Landolf