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What to Know

  • An asbestos-lined steam pipe exploded in the Flatiron District Thursday morning, shutting down the bustling area[hhmc]

  • The air at the site of the blast is safe, but strong asbestos concerns remain; 44 buildings are still evacuated and 28 are in the 'hot zone'[hhmc]

  • A cause of the explosion is under investigation; it comes almost 11 years to the day of a pipe blast near Grand Central that hurt dozens[hhmc]

Forty-four of the nearly 50 buildings evacuated after an asbestos-lined, 86-year-old steam pipe exploded in the heart of the Flatiron District Thursday remain off limits as officials thoroughly assess the potential presence of asbestos.

Twenty-eight of those buildings are in what officials called the "hot zone," and 500 people have been displaced from nearly 250 units in those buildings, Mayor de Blasio said. He said each one of those buildings must be thoroughly assessed for the potential presence of asbestos, and residents won't be allowed to return to their homes — with the exception of emergency needs — until those assessments have been completed, which could take days.

The other 21 buildings that were evacuated will be assessed, but de Blasio said the presence of asbestos is less likely there. There is "real concern" carcinogenic debris was thrown stories high by the rupture and could have gotten into people's buildings or air conditioners, de Blasio said.

The air in the immediate vicinity is safe and has no meaningful asbestos levels, the mayor said, but debris found on the ground after the blast did test positive.

"If it might have gotten on your clothing, get your clothing off," de Blasio said.

Forty-nine buildings were originally evacuated when the 20-inch high-pressure pipe exploded, blowing a 15-foot crater in Fifth Avenue near 21st Street and burying Manhattan in a cloud of alternately white and black steam for hours. By Friday morning, 44 of the original 49 buildings remained evacuated.

Dramatic Images: Pipe Explodes, Buries NYC in Steam CloudDramatic Images: Pipe Explodes, Buries NYC in Steam Cloud

People who live or work in the area should keep windows closed until clean-up is completed, the city's health department says.

Witnesses Reeling After Terrifying Steam Pipe ExplosionWitnesses Reeling After Terrifying Steam Pipe Explosion

Fifth Avenue will remain shut down in the area for days as authorities work to clean up the toxic scene, the mayor said. The immediate area runs from 500 feet east or west of Fifth Avenue on 20th and 21st streets, and 100 feet north and south on Fifth Avenue. If you're concerned you may have been exposed, there are two decontamination sites on 19th and 22nd streets, both on Fifth Avenue.

Con Edison will work to compensate people for items they may have to toss due to exposure risk. Claim forms for clothing compensation are also available online at coned.com.

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NYC Emergency Management opened a reception center for those affected at the Clinton School at 10 E. 15th Street. Con Edison personnel will also be there until 10 p.m. Thursday to provide claim forms.

Asbestos Concerns After ExplosionAsbestos Concerns After Explosion

The FDNY decontaminated about 100 first responders a few blocks from the scene, and people were seen walking with masks over their faces on Sixth Avenue, concerned about what might be in the air. The blast also affected a gas line, water main and electrical power, which may take several days to restore.

A cause of Thursday's blast remains under investigation. Authorities say no Con Edison work was being done in the area, and there's no visible indicator to explain what happened. Gov. Cuomo has ordered a probe into any potential utility-related links.

At least five people suffered what officials called minor injuries.

Commuters Caught in Pipe Explosion MessCommuters Caught in Pipe Explosion Mess

The blast comes almost exactly 11 years to the day of an 83-year-old steam pipe explosion near Grand Central. That shot debris 40 stories in the air, raining mud on midtown, after authorities said the pipe failed.

Were There Warning Signs Before Steam Pipe Blast?Were There Warning Signs Before Steam Pipe Blast?

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USA Today

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