East Harlem, New York City, June 2015 – In an independent report released on a fatal natural gas explosion that occurred at 9:31 a.m. on March 12, 2014 in the East Harlem section Manhattan, New York City, the National Transportation Safety Board found that a defective pipe joint that allowed gas to leak from a gas main into the building; and an earlier break in a sewer line that caused the gas main to sag and over-strain the faulty joint, were the cause of the accident. The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is responsible at the Federal government level for probing accidents relating to pipelines and the transportation of perilous materials.
Both of these faults caused the explosion and resultant fire which claimed eight lives after it leveled 2 five-storey buildings located north of 116th Street, at 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue; injured fifty; displaced hundreds of families and ruined several small businesses in the area.
Contributing Risk Factors
The board also found out that while the blast was caused by the above two failings, there were a number of other causal agents that contributed to the severity of the accident including the failure of neighborhood inhabitants to report the gas odor they detected and the failure of Consolidated Edison, the utility service that services New York, to notify the Fire Department as soon as the company was alerted.
It was reported that the odor of leaking gas had begun at least a day prior to the blast while Cod Edison, the utility company confirmed to have received a gas leak call 15 minutes before the explosion; and had allegedly sent its crews to the spot; but, they arrived after the damage was done.
Several residents of the block later said that they had detected the rotten-egg odor added to natural gas earlier on. But none of them took the initiative to make a call to Con Edison until after 9 a.m. on the D-day, March 12, 2014. Even then, a Con Edison agent said that the caller’s tone had been so uncertain which led to the delay of immediate action being taken.
Effects Of The Explosion
An NTSB staff member said that the said call was placed roughly at 9:19 a.m. and there followed an incoherent speech that ended with the representative telling the Fire Department that they would call right back. The callback was never to be, and about 11 minutes later, the blast rocked the whole block, destroying buildings on either side of Park Avenue; forming a crater on the street and upsetting train service on the grand Metro-North trails until late in the day.
Among the findings by the Safety Board was that the nearby soil contained natural gas in varying concentration. Robert Sumwalt, an NTSB Board member also revealed that the gas main buried near the scene at 116th Street, Park Avenue dated back to 1887, which is 127 years ago. It was also found that Con Edison Inc. had failed to install valves that would have made it simpler to shut off the gas that fed the fire.
The Response After the Blast
In two minutes, the New York City Police Department and the New York City Fire Department had already arrived at the scene of the accident. Two fire companies located about five blocks to the south in an FDNY firehouse accounted not only hearing, but also feeling the effects of the enormous blast; they immediately alerted the unit’s mail office. The incident shot up to a five-alarm fire within record time; which brought more than 250 fire-fighters to the spot.
The American Red Cross in New York responded immediately and could be seen helping those displaced. The Public School 57 was being used as a makeshift center as the MTA buses transported those affected to a Salvation Army refuge center at 125th Street.
The National Transportation Safety Board report also found that a broken gas pipe maintained by Cod Edison and corrosion under the pipe, which the city disregarded for almost a decade, also contributed to the gas filling the buildings. The board suggested that the city fix faults in its sewer lines, “in a timely manner” and also come together with other agencies in a bid to identify ground erosion points so as to avoid future occurrences of such incidents.