Thursday, March 13, 2014

East Harlem Natural Gas Explosion

Two Manhattan apartment buildings exploded on Wednesday in East Harlem and the death toll currently stands at seven people with many others missing.  A gas leak-triggered the explosion that reduced the area to a pile of smashed bricks, splinters and mangled metal.  The explosion injured more than 60 people, with searchers still trying to locate others.   The site is at Park Avenue and 116th Street and the blast erupted at about 9:30 a.m., around 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling gas. The Con Edison utility said it immediately sent workers to check out the report, but they didn't arrive until it was too late.

A tenant in one of the destroyed buildings said residents had complained to the landlord about smelling gas as recently as Tuesday.  A few weeks ago city fire officials were called about the odor, which was so bad that a tenant on the top floor broke open the door to the roof for ventilation.
The fire department said a check of its records found no instances in the past month in which tenants of the two buildings reported gas odors or leaks.

Con Ed said there was only one gas odor complaint on record with the utility from either address, and it was last May, at the building next door to Borrero's. It was a small leak in customer piping and was fixed.
Con Ed said it remains to be seen whether the leak was in a company main or in customer-installed inside plumbing. The gas main that serves the area was made of plastic and cast iron, and the iron dated to 1887.
Age is not in and of itself an issue with cast iron. Con Edison has a cast iron replacement program and the pipe was not slated to be removed in the next three-year period.

A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team is investigating. The agency investigates pipeline accidents in addition to transportation disasters.  The NTSB team investigators will be looking at how Con Edison handles reports of gas odors and issues with the pipe and will be constructing a timeline of events.  (AP, NECN, 3/12/2014)

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