Dozens injured, some critically, in explosion in Manhattan building


Thursday, April 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) _ Seconds before a building blast rocked a city block and injured 42 people, at least ten critically, Chad Dougatz said he heard an overwhelming rumble.

``Everything was shaking, and then an impact,'' said the Yahoo.com employee who works in the 10-story commercial building. ``The elevators blew off the hinges. It was pretty scary.''

Authorities quickly ruled out terrorism and said Thursday's late-morning explosion may have been caused by a volatile mix of a sign company's chemicals stored in the basement.

The chemicals were being investigated as a possible factor, said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.

Regardless, the blast on West 19th Street conjured up memories of Sept. 11 for some in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

``I immediately thought it was terrorism,'' Dougatz said.

The explosion sent glass and rubble hurling into the street. Dust billowed through the building, followed by smoke. People rushed to the street below, many screaming or yelling as they descended down staircases. Many were injured by flying glass.

Within minutes, police and more than 100 firefighters poured into the neighborhood. Some dazed and bloodied victims sat on the curb awaiting medical attention.

The victims were taken to area hospitals with burns, severe head injuries, broken bones and cuts. A firefighter also was hospitalized in stable condition with back injuries, a spokeswoman said.

Phil Morgan, the general manager of the Kaltech sign company, said he felt two consecutive blasts in the company's ground-floor offices.

``One pushed me up from my chair, the second one had me out of my chair,'' he said. ``When it was over, the ceiling and a wall had come down. Everything moved. The air was filled with dust.''

The facade of the building was damaged and walls were blown out, but it appeared to be structurally sound, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The building housed the sign company and other commercial tenants, said Sid Dinsay, a spokesman for the city Office of Emergency Management. Neighbors said the building also was used for storage by the Apex Technical School, which teaches welding, automotive repair and other trades.

Property records show that the building is owned by 19th Street Associates LLC. The office of Steven Kaufman, a principal in the firm, said he had no comment.