Panic briefly filled the concrete canyons of lower Manhattan Friday morning as a massive explosion rocked the Union Square area.
The blast took place just before 8 a.m. below the street level, with three manholes ablaze by the time firefighters responded. Police evacuated an 11-story building that houses apartments and The Strand bookstore.
Although no injuries were reported, many New Yorkers feared the worst.
“We heard this explosion. Our windows shook and I run to the window and see people running and cars driving backwards,” said Serge Milman, 44, who lives on Broadway.
“I lived through 9/11 over here and I’m thinking something ominous,” he said. “It literally sounded like a bomb.”
“The first thing I thought was it’s a bomb,” admitted Ana Santos, 45, a security guard at 799 Broadway. “After 9/11, the first thing you think, is it a bomb?”
NBC reporter Rima Abdelkader was on the Staten Island Express bus when all aboard “heard this huge explosion.”
“From what people heard, it sounded like a bomb. You felt it,” she said. “I was listening to music and I still heard it. My right ear is hurting.”
The explosion came three hours after the New York City Fire Department responded to the area for a report of a smoking manhole.
Con Edison, the utility serving New York City, then began inspecting the area.
Firefighters returned to the area just before 8 a.m. when another manhole began smoking.
Firefighters went into the Strand Bookstore at East 12th Street and Broadway, where they noticed high levels of carbon monoxide. They were in the process of evacuating the sole person in the store when the manhole outside exploded, official said.
The explosion damaged one firetruck that was parked on the manhole that exploded.
Officials say the fires were under control by 9:20 a.m.
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