Underground Explosions on Greenwich Street Send People Running

Firefighters spray manhole at Reade and Greenwich Street where a transformer fire caused an explosion. Photo by Allan Tannenbaum

Just as Tribeca residents were getting used to some normalcy after Hurricane Sandy, two explosions near noon on Saturday, Nov. 10, rattled buildings and nerves around Greenwich Street.

An underground transformer fire near the intersection of Greenwich and Reade streets caused what some witnesses described as the biggest boom they had ever heard. “I think everybody jumped around here. Some people ran,” Alex Villani, who was selling fish at the Greenmarket near the blast, said of the second explosion. “I mean it was really loud.”

Kayla Geiser, a cake specialist at Duane Park Patisserie at 179 Duane St., ran out of the store with owner Madeline Lanciani when the second boom rang out. “It felt like an earthquake,” Geiser said.  “It literally shook the bakery.”

Villani said he saw smoke coming from the manhole cover before each boom. “It got blacker and blacker and suddenly there was an explosion,” he said.

A Fire Department spokesman said that about 50 people were evacuated from the New York Sports Club at 151 Reade Street. People attending a children’s party nearby on Greenwich Street also exited a building. The spokesman said the fire, which was called in around 11:20, was declared under control about an hour-and-a-half later. But an acrid smell still hung in the air late into the evening.

A Con Ed spokesman did not return a call for comment but Con Ed workers on the scene said they thought it was likely that salt water from the recent flood led to the fire.