The Manhattan garden center where a fire broke out Tuesday and caused crippling structural damage to an elevated Metro-North track overhead wasn't permitted to store large quantities of flammable materials, the mayor's office said Thursday.
The Urban Garden Center on Park Avenue in East Harlem didn't have permits to be storing propane, firewood, plywood and other flammable materials at its site underneath the elevated tracks, the city said. Those materials fueled a massive blaze sparked by an accidental fuel spill that grew to an inferno that damaged a column beneath the viaduct holding the elevated tracks. The damage has spurred days of delays on one of the nation's busiest rail lines.
"Had the business followed the law, FDNY would have assessed the site and determined this storage of flammable materials should not be allowed," the mayor's office said in the statement.
The mayor's statement came after an I-Team investigation revealed that firewood, plywood and what appeared to be soil and fertilizer stacked high in a lot underneath the tracks.
Fire safety expert Glenn Corbett told the I-Team on Wednesday that he was stunned that neither the city or Metro-North picked up on the materials sitting under the tracks sooner, especially since the stretch of track was impacted by the deadly gas explosion in East Harlem in 2014.
"It should have raised red flags a long time ago," Corbett said over the phone.
One of the owners of the garden center declined to comment to NBC 4 New York on Thursday.
Metro-North service, meanwhile continues to ramp up, with an extra track being restored before Thursday's morning rush.
Metro-North said it operated on an "enhanced Saturday schedule" Thursday, providing about 75 percent ridership capacity. The railroad said it hoped to restore regular service by Friday.
Commuters applauded Thursday's improved service.
"It was three hours yesterday," said Elliot Taub of his ride from Milford. Connecticut. "One and a half today."
Passenger Jessie Shelton of White Plains was also pleased about Metro-North service.
"It was good," he said. "Right on time."
Between 140,000 and 150,000 riders were affected by the delays, according to officials.
Trains were slowed from their normal 60 mph to 30 mph Wednesday as repairs continued on a center column beneath the elevated tracks that was damaged by the fire.
Spokesperson Nancy Gamerman said the railroad was working to restore full service by Friday, but that commuters should expect delays because speed restrictions could still be implemented.
Commuters are advised to check the Metro-North website for updates. NYC Transit has been cross-honoring Metro-North tickets on subways.
Crews were installing six temporary steel columns until permanent repairs could be made.