Yesterday afternoon, what was supposed to be a controlled blast underground blew rocks and debris in the street on East 72nd Street and Second Avenue, terrifying residents and damaging a storefront. The explosion occurred as part of the Second Avenue Subway construction, and today MTA officials said that they’re putting a moratorium on all work at that site until the contractor can provide a new standard operating procedure and a thorough safety review has been conducted.
“What happened yesterday was completely unacceptable and should not have occurred,” said Dr. Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, the subsidiary agency in charge of the Second Avenue Subway construction project. “I’m really upset and angry that whatever happened put the residents in the area in [this] situation. We are continuing our investigation into exactly what happened.”
Horodniceanu said that preliminary findings show that the blast, which was designed to create an elevator shaft, got out of control because the 1,800 pound, 6-foot by 10-foot steel plate covering the tunnel above the explosives was not properly secured at its edges.
“The holes that were drilled in the rock outcrop that was blasted were diagonal. Normally we will do it in a vertical fashion,” he said, although the MTA has used this diagonal drilling at several other sites. “When you drill vertically, the energy that is created would go laterally. In this case it went vertically and actually aimed directly to the deck, to the southeast corner of the 72nd Street deck. The decking lifted and allowed rock to actually spread into the street.”
Aside from a few broken windows at an art gallery, there was no structural damage to the street or nearby buildings, and no one was injured at the site.
The MTA plans to take a number of steps to insure that this won’t happen again, Horodniceanu said. They will be adding protective rubber matting on top of underground blasts to further prevent the spread of debris, he said, and will also be expanding the areas from they ban pedestrians surrounding a blast site. They are also hiring an independent safety consultant and will be employing a blasting consultant more frequently, he said. None of these measures are expected to greatly increase the cost of the project or delay its December 2016 completion date, according to Horodniceanu.
“I truly would like to apologize to the residents of the area that have been exposed to numerous problems throughout the construction of this project, and I pledge to them that we’ll do our best for something like this not to occur again,” Horodniceanu said.
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