An explosion in a transformer underneath a Manhattan sidewalk sent flames up the front of a landmark building Thursday, shattering windows and blackening the front of several stories. Fortunately, fire department officials confirmed that no one was injured and no one was unaccounted for.
Consolidated Edison spokesman Christopher Olert said the transformer was in a vault below the front of the seven-story building. An investigation was under way into the cause.
A city source told NBC New York someone called the fire department before the explosion to investigate a report of smoke coming from the basement. The fire department was already at the scene when the transformer blew.
Carol Paplin, who works for an office furniture dealership on the sixth floor of the building on Sixth Avenue in the Chelsea district, said she detected a sulfur odor as she approached the building at 10:30 a.m., but as she got to the entrance the smell faded and she went inside.
About half an hour later, building workers were told via the public address system that there was a fire on the sidewalk but not to be alarmed.
"Then, as I walked through the office, an orange fireball went up at our window,'' Paplin said.
At that moment, another announcement instructed those in the building to evacuate using a back staircase.
"Everyone was calm, although there were many people without their coats and pocketbooks,'' said Paplin.
The front door of a Radio Shack store was blown out by the force of the explosion. Other businesses in the building include a Bally's Total Fitness gym and a Papyrus stationery store. The building also houses the Apex Technical School on the opposite end from where the damage occurred.
The building is part of the Ladies' Mile Historic District, so named for the shops and stores that were along parts of Broadway toward the end of the 19th century. That area was given its designation in 1989.
The structure, known as the Simpson, Crawford and Simpson building, "is an incredibly important building historically and architecturally,'' said Elisabeth de Bourbon, spokeswoman for the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Done in the Beaux Arts style, the building was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century. It has been used as a department store, a warehouse and an automobile showroom.
A four-block section of 6th Avenue was closed to all traffic during the investigation.