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Con Edison Steam Pipe Explosion to Cost Small Businesses Millions

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Clean up from last week’s massive New York City steam pipe explosion could take much of the week, a situation that has many small business owners worried. Many shops and restaurants in the area have been closed since the explosion, resulting in serious financial losses. If streets around the ruptured steam pipe do not open soon, those lost revenues will reach into the millions of dollars.

Last Wednesday’s explosion occurred when a 24-inch steam pipe burst. The resulting explosion sent hot vapor and asbestos-laden debris hundreds of feet into the air. One woman died as a result of the explosion, and as many as 40 people were injured. Since then, several city blocks have been cordoned off as the area is cleaned up and the explosion is investigated. The “frozen zone” encompasses one of the most expensive commercial corridors in the country. According to the New York City Department of Small Business Services, as many as 125 ground-level retailers are affected by the closure. A half dozen office buildings in the frozen zone were still empty as of Friday, as many had windows blown out during the blast, and some lacked phone service.

The city says it is working to reopen streets as quickly as possible. By Monday, the north side of 42nd Street, as well as Lexington Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets, had been reopened to pedestrians and business owners. However, the streets are still closed to vehicles. As of now, the area from the north side of 40th Street down to the southern end of 42nd Street is still closed, as are blocks from the eastern edge of Park Avenue to the western edge of Third Avenue. While some businesses on the newly-reopened streets are operating, owners say that they are only seeing a fraction of the customers they would normally have on a typical Monday.

During his weekend radio show, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed concern that businesses affected by the explosion would suffer financial hardships. The city is setting up a small business loan program to provide no-interest loans to small businesses in the frozen zone. The Mayor also said that the city had asked for federal help from the Small Business Administration.

Con Edison, which owned the 84-year -old pipe, still does not know what caused last week’s blast. The pipe in question is part of a 105-mile steam pipe network used to heat and cool Manhattan buildings. Con Edison said that a leak in one of the steam mains near where the explosion occurred had been repaired in March, while work on another leak several yards away was completed at the end of June. Con Edison said that the pipes had been inspected just seven hours prior to the explosion, but that workers found no problems. Contrary to Con Edison’s assertions, several people who work in the area have told various media outlets that for several weeks prior to the blast, large amounts of steam had been rising up from the ground where the explosion occurred. Con Edison said that it was too early to tell if any of the recent repairs were linked to the blast.

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