Explosion at MTA construction site, but no injuries: Officials
Some Upper East Side residents went running for cover Tuesday afternoon when a scheduled blast at an underground MTA construction site went horribly "awry," causing an explosion that sent rocks and debris shooting into the air, officials and witnesses said, though there were no reported injuries and only "minimal" damage to nearby buildings.
The explosion -- which went off just before 12:45 p.m. on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Second Avenue, according to MTA and city officials -- shattered at least six windows as rubble rocketed toward the south side of the street and more than five stories high. The blast was meant to create a shaft for an escalator for a new subway entrance.
"I just saw a big, thick cloud of smoke traveling down the block," said Saadah Shaheed, a hair stylist at Sharkey's Cuts for Kids, which is two doors away from an art gallery on the corner that took most of the damage.
MTA chief Joe Lhota said the accident is "completely unacceptable."
"The MTA is investigating what went wrong and will not resume work at the 72nd Street site until we receive a full explanation for what happened and a plan to make sure it does not happen again," Lhota said.
Michael Horodniceanu, who heads the MTA's megaprojects, added that the subcontractors at the site will submit a report on the explosion Wednesday.
There was unspecified "collateral damage" to the underground cavern and to a transformer, officials said, but there was no structural damage to nearby buildings or to a crane at the site. The art gallery, which had windows on both sides crack, was vacated as a precaution, according to a spokeswoman for the department of buildings.
Sources with knowledge of the initial investigation Tuesday shot down speculation that workers had used too much explosive material for the blast, saying they believed the equipment may have been set up in the wrong place.
Yesterday's explosion was the latest in a series of accidents along Second Avenue as the MTA builds a new subway line, set to open in December 2016.
A"similar," but "much smaller" explosion happened a week and a half ago, MTA officials said. An MTA spokesman said the cause of that accident is under investigation.
And in April, a construction worker was seriously injured as he worked on another station at 86th Street.
Carole Cusa, who has lived at 72nd Street and Second Avenue for 35 years, said she was thrown off her chair when the explosion happened. When she smelled smoke, Cusa grabbed her dog, Frankie, and ran out of the building.
"I'm a little bit shocked," said Cusa, a real estate agent. "They've been telling us it's safe and nothing is going to happen, but this was a real close call."
Pat Castellan who lives on Second Avenue near 74th Street, likened the blasting to "a war zone."
"I wonder what's going on and whether they are taking all the precautions necessary," said Castellan, 65. "You worry about the viability of the building and the structural damage to the building from all of this,"
"I am as concerned as they are," Horodniceanu said of nearby residents and employees. "We will make sure that such an occurrence will not happen again. We will not tolerate any such reoccurrences."