NEW YORK—A steam pipe exploded in Manhattan, causing evacuations and covering commuters in mud and debris during the busy hours of Thursday morning.
A spokesman for the Fire Department of New York said a call came in at 6:39 a.m. for a “high-pressure steam explosion” in the neighborhood near Madison Square Park. About an hour later, 25 firetrucks and more than 100 firefighters and medical personnel were on the scene. There were no injuries or deaths, the FDNY said.
Firefighters were evacuating buildings near the location of the explosion at 141 5th Avenue, according to the FDNY spokesman.
“It’s big,” said the spokesman. “It’s not smoke, it’s steam. But it still has to be something where buildings are evacuated.”
Officials said firefighters were still working to contain the three-alarm explosion. A contractor for the city’s Department of Environmental Protection was doing a water pipe installation at the intersection, according to city records.
NYPD officers were also on scene directing traffic, according to NYPD Sgt. Lee Jones. He added that the incident didn’t appear to be criminal.
A Con Edison spokesman said crews were conducting testing of asbestos “and other contaminants” in the area. “As a precaution anyone in the vicinity of the rupture who was covered in material is advised to bag their clothing and shower,” the spokesman said in a statement.
The chief spokesman for New York City’s mayor said in a tweet the explosion didn’t appear to cause any structural damage.
“First responders are finishing turning off water mains now,” spokesman Eric Phillips said. “FDNY inspecting nearby manholes to ensure safety. Precautionary and temporary evacuations of nearby buildings. Travel delays will likely remain.”
The city’s R and W subway lines were bypassing 23rd Street in both directions because of the incident, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Ernest Hinnant, who works in the area at a co-working company, got off the subway at Union Square just before 6:45 a.m. and noticed steam, thinking it was coming from a restaurant. When he turned toward 5th Avenue, he saw a cloud plume and heard the roar of steam.
“There’s a solid sort of substance coming out of the cloud that’s sort of coating the ground. At first I honestly thought that the solid substance was ash and it was a fire, but it’s just gray and not ash,” Mr. Hinnant said.
He said the explosion put two holes in the street, a larger hole on 5th Avenue and 21st and another just south of 5th Avenue and 20th Street.
“It’s still totally happening, it’s just like a huge roaring sound,” Mr. Hinnant said. “I can see two cars kind of under the cloud, they’re totally covered in whatever is falling out of the thing.”
Shella Eckhouse, a Manhattan resident who works at a jewelry business, was riding a Citi bike to an exercise class in Chelsea when the explosion occurred just a few feet away.
“All of a sudden I heard ‘Pow!’” she said. “There was debris coming down and steam flying. I was covered in mud.”
Ms. Eckhouse said she “pedaled so fast” to get away as quickly as possible. Within about a minute she had parked her Citi bike and was making her way to her class.
Now she is somewhat philosophic about the experience. “It’s New York City,” she said. “Anything can happen anytime.”
—Charles Passy contributed to this article.