Times Square

Times Square Explosions: What Caused Manhole Blasts That Sent Panicked Crowds Running?

Loud bangs and smoke rising from midtown Manhattan streets sent crowds running through the Crossroads of the World Sunday night

NBC Universal, Inc.

After three manhole explosions in Times Square Sunday night sent people running, triggering fear as smoke rose from streets in the heart of Manhattan, streets were reopened less than a day later — but many questions still remained.

Foremost among them: What caused the trio of blasts near near 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue shortly before 8 p.m.?

Con Edison confirmed at least one manhole explosion was because of a cable fire. No other details on the cause were immediately available as of Monday.

"We are analyzing what happened. What typically happens is the insulation fails," said Jamie McShane, of Con Edison.

The utility is very familiar with manhole incidents. In 2021, they handled more than 1,500 smoke conditions at manholes, and 85 manhole fires.

But why the insulation may have failed in Times Square remains a mystery still. In past years, an early Spring can be extra hazardous because melting snow mixed with salt can seep underground and spark some of the wires. However, there hasn't been any snow around for some time.

"When you have high voltage cables underground, remember that energy is 24/7, every minute of every day, trying to escape that cable," McShane said.

Con Edison has taken extra steps to avoid such things from happening. The utility uses infrared scanners to monitor heat before an incident, and installed ventilated manhole covers. They also provided extra training for crews in a fog-infused manhole simulator.

Tens of thousands of manholes throughout the city will be inspected by Con Edison. In Times Square, they will see whether old cables had frayed before the blasts.

Three manhole fires in Times Square Sunday night send people scrambling in the Crossroads of the World. Two police officers were taken to a hospital for tinnitus.

Repair work in the area may last another week. No power outages were reported because Con Edison has redundant lines. But jittery nerves remain for those who were present for the blasts.

"We saw black smoke out of the ground. Two minutes later — boom! The whole block is shaking now," said Joseph Romero. "It sounded like something blew up, man. Sounded like it could have been a terrorist attack."

Two police officers were taken to a hospital for ringing in their ears, but no other injuries were reported.

The sound from the blasts has been enough to jolt entire neighborhoods in the past, and this latest incident generated extra attention because of the location. The panicked evacuation reminiscent of 2019, when a motorcycle backfire sent crowds scurrying for safety. In summer 2021, a suspicious canister led to a similar scene.

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