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Manhole Explosion Shuts Down Midtown Block

By DNAinfo Staff on May 20, 2011 10:27am  | Updated on May 20, 2011 2:34pm

By Olivia Scheck

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN EAST — A manhole explosion shut down a residential Midtown block Friday morning.

Officials cordoned off East 51st Street between Second and Third avenues after the fire broke out around 9:39 a.m. and the street was still closed to vehicular traffic by 1 p.m. No one was injured in the explosion, officials said.

"It was like a bomb, more than a bomb," said Zef Palushi, owner of Universal Master Inc. hair salon, which lost power Friday following the explosion.

Palushi said the lights in his salon, which is across the street from one of the affected manholes, flickered before the explosion.

"The metal jumped this high into the air," he said, gesturing above his head. "It was shaking the whole building and smoke was everywhere."

A manhole fire shut down East 51st between Second and Third avenues.
A manhole fire shut down East 51st between Second and Third avenues.
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DNAinfo/Olivia Scheck

Palushi said he and his staff ran to Second Avenue after the explosion. When they returned the power was out and they were forced to cancel several appointments, causing them to lose at least $1000, Palushi said.

A fire chief at the scene said a manhole cover was blown into the air by the fire.

He said it was caused by rain, which short circuited wires underground.

Robert Van Doninck, 43, who was standing inside Ess-a-Bagel On First Ave., just south of 51st Street, said "It sounded like a bomb."

"We’re not from around here, but when you see the guys who work there stop, you know something’s up,"said Van Donick, who was visiting from Florida, "The lights were flickering.”

At least three buildings on the block were without power on Friday afternoon, including a UPS store, the Universal Master Inc. hair salon, and a restaurant called BXL East.

ConEd officials did not immediately respond to calls for comment.