Benjamin Carroll

Doorman Sees ‘Lights Flicker, Room Shake' Before Giant Steam Pipe Explosion

"I was scared, I was trying to stay away from the door"

What to Know

  • Overnight doorman Patrick Tentes was finishing his shift for the day when he noticed the basement of his building was filled with steam
  • As he was coming back up to the lobby of his building, he saw the lights flicker and the room shook
  • He ran up the stairs to find a steam pipe had exploded, and steam and mud were spraying at his building

An asbestos-lined, 86-year-old steam pipe exploded in the heart of the Flatiron District Thursday morning, blowing a crater in Fifth Avenue, sending smoke and mud spewing over the block and terrifying local residents and workers. For some, the scenes were reminscent of other frightening incidents in the city.

Overnight doorman Patrick Tentes was working through his daily routine cleaning the lobby at 141 Fifth Avenue when he noticed the back room of his building was incredibly humid and hot.

Checking the basement, he found that was even hotter. “It was just like a sauna, it was over 100 degrees in there, super humid and steamy,” he said.

It was about 6.30 a.m. and he phoned his boss to report the problem. Soon after, Tentes was coming out of his building’s elevator on his way to the front desk when he saw the lights flicker and felt the room shake. “I ran upstairs and when I got up the stairs and got out the door there was steam everywhere, it looked like an explosion happened ... and an explosion had happened.”

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Outside, thick steam and mud was spraying at the building with force, he said. “I was scared, I was trying to stay away from the door, that's when a resident started coming down and I said, 'Don't go out it, doesnt seem stable.'"

The heavy steam looked like smoke and initially brought to mind concerns of a possible sinister cause, especially for people who lived in the area during the 9/11 terror attacks, others said.

"My whole body was shaking, I didn't know what was going on at the moment," one man said.

Authorities are checking the area around the steam pipe blast for contamination, including from asbestos. Anyone in the area is being told to bag their clothes and shower. Adam Kuperstein reports.

Pablo Valdes heard a howling sound -- then suddenly felt a muddy mixture pouring down on him. 

"I felt, like, mud coming down my face and my eyes," he said. "At first I thought it was rain but I obviously tasted it and it wasn't rain." 

"The debris was everywhere. You see the steam. It was like a whirlwind coming out from the ground."


Forty-nine buildings were evacuated when the 20-inch high-pressure pipe exploded. Asbestos has since been found on the ground in the area.

Fifth Avenue will remain shut down in the area for days as authorities work to clean up the toxic scene, the mayor said. Anyone in the immediate vicinity at the time of the blast should bag their clothes and shower, officials said. Con Edison will work to compensate people for items they may have to toss or hand in to a drop-off area due to exposure risk. 

The blast comes almost exactly 11 years to the day of a steam pipe explosion near Grand Central. That rush-hour explosion on July 18, 2007, shot debris 40 stories in the air, raining mud on midtown. In that case, authorities said an 83-year-old underground pipe near the transit hub failed. 

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