NYC Blast Could Cost Businesses Millions

With the cleanup from a deadly steam pipe explosion expected to drag on for days, businesses in the "frozen zone" could lose hundreds of millions of dollars, a business leader said .

NYC Blast Could Cost Businesses Millions

The neighborhood just south of Grand Central Terminal is one of the nation's most expensive commercial districts, including offices for Pfizer Inc., real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank and magazine publisher Meredith Corp. The blast killed one person, a woman who worked at Pfizer.

"There is a significant loss for those in the frozen area," said Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit organization of city business leaders.

"If it goes much farther than next week, the potential losses in revenue could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars."

The blocks near where the asbestos-insulated pipe ruptured, sending up geysers of steam, dirt and asphalt, are off-limits to private vehicles and most pedestrians. On Friday they were filled with work crews, some wearing protective masks, others in white jumpsuits. Utility and emergency vehicles jammed the streets, their red lights whirling.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he expected the cleanup would continue "well into next week," with 42nd Street getting back to normal by Monday.

"There are a couple of blocks where people really are getting hurt, small businesses, offices," Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.

City officials were setting up a small business loan program where affected establishments could apply for up to $10,000 in zero-interest loans. The city also requested federal aid from the Small Business Administration.

There are 125 ground-floor retailers in the area, said Robert Walsh, commissioner of the city's Department of Small Business Services.

The cause of the blast remained under investigation.

The explosion during Wednesday evening's rush hour followed a string of problems with the aging steam system under the intersection of 41st Street and Lexington Avenue, according to city records and Con Ed officials.

Donna Elreda, who works at an accounting firm in the area, said she has seen steam pouring out of the ground for weeks where the explosion occurred.

"People are acting like this happened out of the blue," Elreda said. "There was so much steam at times you couldn't even see the cars" driving through it.

But Bill Longhi, Consolidated Edison Inc.'s senior vice president for central operations, told reporters that the maintenance work done in the area was routine, and hadn't offered any signs that a more dangerous problem was developing.

On March 14, Con Ed crews trying to fix a leak in the steam main entered a manhole near the blast to repair a seam connecting two segments of the steel pipe.

Work crews were back in April and June to repair a leak in a smaller steam line several yards away. The job on that 8-inch service line was completed June 28, when workers paved over the hole in the street.

Con Ed officials said Friday that it is too soon to know whether there is any link between the explosion and the previous leaks and repair work.

A half-dozen major office buildings in the frozen zone remained empty Friday. Some had windows blown out, and many lost phone service. People generally avoided the area, and traffic along the perimeter was clogged as police diverted vehicles and pedestrians.

David Elian, owner of Monet's clothing store on the corner of 41st Street and Third Avenue, reopened Friday. There was only one customer in the store. He said he has lost at least $5,000 in revenue and was eager to reopen to pay the landlord.

"I like New York," the Iranian immigrant said. "It's a place you can make lots of money. Just not today."

Tests for airborne asbestos were continuing, but the Department of Environmental Protection has said any exposure to the cancer-causing contaminant would have been brief and the health risks limited.

As of Friday afternoon, 20 air quality tests had come back negative for asbestos, city officials said.

Besides the fatality, more than 40 people were injured in the blast. The most seriously hurt was 21-year-old Gregory McCullough. He was in critical condition Friday in the burn unit of New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center.

McCullough was driving a tow truck that was thrown into the air by the powerful geyser of steam. He landed in the crater gouged out by the blast and suffered third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body.

The pipe that exploded was part of an underground network of mains and service pipes that deliver steam to thousands of customers -- including the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and the United Nations -- for such things as heat and air conditioning.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 21 Temmuz 2007, 08:14