"At 6:39 we had the rupture of a high pressure steam main at 21st and Fifth - that's a 20-inch steam pipe that was installed in New York City in 1932", Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
Although the blast and the resulting street closings snarled vehicular traffic in the immediate area, other commuting disruptions were minimal.
Anyone who may have gotten material on their clothing should shower immediately and bag the clothing as a precaution, officials said. Residents in the area could be displaced for a few days, though he said it's possible buildings farthest from the blast could be cleared as early as Thursday evening.
About 500 people from almost 250 residential units were displaced by the evacuation order, according to the city's Emergency Management Department. "We're going to be very thorough".
"It was a pretty violent explosion", Lizio-Katzen told the Daily News.
Steam rose near the site of a steam pipe explosion on Fifth Avenue near the Flatiron District.
The high-pressure steam leak was reported at around 6.40am on Thursday morning.
A July 2007 blast tore a deep crater in an intersection near Grand Central Terminal and sent a scalding geyser into the air, leaving one woman dead from a heart attack as she fled.
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"I knew either it was a World Trade Center kind of thing or a plane crash", said Doreen Black, who was in bed in her apartment at 22nd Street and Broadway when the explosion occurred.
The fire department confirmed the possibility of asbestos being released in the explosion.
Con Edison, which operates the system of steam piping, said the explosion also disrupted some underground power and gas lines but did not cause outages.
Asbestos is used to insulate steam pipes and prevent temperature shocks, said Rae Zimmerman, a public administration professor at New York University. Sadly, the same couldn't be said when a steam pipe in neighboring Gramercy Park burst in August 1989, as three people - including two Con Edison workers - were killed. Crews were on the scene Friday morning, continuing fix work at the giant crater on Fifth Avenue that opened up as a result of the blast.
Buildings along several blocks of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan were evacuated as a precaution.
For more information on updates on the area affected by the steam pipe explosion, visit nyc.gov or call 311.
Multiples streets were closed in the area including a stretch of Fifth Avenue. City busses were also being detoured.