We walked leisurely about six blocks or so, and heard a thunderous sound…we weren’t overly alarmed. We had both grown up in New York…loud sounds happen. We looked at each other, and said “what’s that?” My first reaction was that it was the subway, but didn’t really think first to know that the subway was not all that close to where we were standing. Then almost immediately, our neighborhood exploded with all kinds of sounds…ambulances, police sirens, fire engines, people running this way and that. Now we were worried. Was this a nuclear disaster? A bomb? Terrorist attack wasn’t really in our minds…it was 1989. We started to run back towards our apartment. People were hanging out of their windows, off of their balconies, from the top of their roof…and as we got closer to our building, about four blocks away…we saw what everyone was looking at…it was a 100 foot high wall of smoke (steam actually), and could it be true… it was coming from our building. Was it near, or was it in? We could not tell for sure. The streets were packed; no cars were allowed to enter because they had closed off the street in a 10 block radius, except for emergency vehicles.
We walked to as far as we were able…about two blocks from our building. My husband said “stay here, don’t move or I’ll never find you again (the streets were stuffed with people), I’ll go see what’s going on”. We stayed put, me and my baby in her plastic bubble, waiting for news. Was our building on fire? Was anyone hurt? Were our cats and our turtle going to be okay? One minute you’re fine…just taking a walk, the next you’re not so fine.
After about fifteen or twenty extremely long minutes, my husband found us in the crowd. He said “it’s our building, they won’t let anyone within a block of it, people are stuck inside, I heard that a couple of people had been killed”. “But what is it?” I wanted to know from someone who had had more of a birdseye view than myself. “They had been repairing a steampipe on our block, (they were always repairing a steampipe on our block). The electric company was constantly digging and paving, and digging and paving our block. On this day, they had dug, gone down inside the hole, about five feet or so (nothing new here), they’re mission obviously was to repair something. We learned afterward, that there were two men in the hole, one man released the gasket on the pipe too quickly, and the steam, which was 400 degrees hot exploded out of the pipe with a vengeance. The two men were blown out of the hole (both were killed), along with an entire blocks worth of asphalt. The steam could not be shut off for hours, it looked like some modern-day Vesuvius.