16 years ago on July 18th, 2007
A steam pipe explodes near Grand Central, sending debris flying and disrupting Midtown during evening rush hour
The explosion occurred around 6pm during a Wednesday rush hour in a busy part of the city at 41st and Lexington, but thankfully there was only one death and two serious injuries. Lois Baumerich from New Jersey died from a heart attack as she fled the explosion and a tow truck driver Gregory McCullough was badly burned as he and his passenger, Judith Bailey, were driving over the spot where scalding steam exploded from the street and their tow truck dropped into the 35-foot crater caused by the explosion.
The steam pipe had been installed in 1924, but a recent repair may have led to the explosion. Excess sealant from the repair had clogged valves that are needed to drain excess water from the pipe. Water condensation inside the pipe caused a water hammer effect that burst the pipe due to a sudden increase in pressure.
The highly-pressurized steam erupted from the ground, with a column of steam rising higher than the nearby Chrysler Building. In addition to dirt and debris, the steam was also catapulting asbestos insulation into the air, making a detailed cleanup process necessary. Tests showed that the asbestos debris was not airborne, but anyone who came in contact with the dust falling at the site needed to be hosed down in a decontamination procedure and workers wore breathing protection.
Another steam explosion occurred 11 years and one day later near the Flatiron Building.