As you walk along a NYC sidewalk it may not be immediately obvious to you that you are walking not just through a huge city but over the top of another huge city that lies under that sidewalk. Underground there is a rabbit warren of subway tunnels, tunnels which handle water and waste and tunnels which carry all the pipes and cables that are part of the delivery of gas, electricity, heating and digital services to the above ground city.
In Manhattan alone there is a network of over 105 miles of main pipes, 3,000 manholes giving access to what lies below and heavens knows how many grates which let steam harmlessly escape. If you don’t know what I mean remember Marilyn Monroe curvaceously standing over one of them and trying to hold her skirt down. Apart from the odd film star showing off her pins, New Yorkers don’t give manhole covers too much thought unitl they explode which they do with monotonous regularity.
Just this week, 2 manhole covers and 2 grates near the corner of Eight Ave and W 35th Street in very busy midtown Manhattan exploded upwards in a rush of flames and smoke, see the video. No one yet knows what caused the fire which then caused the explosion. In winter manhole covers regularly get thrown in the air when the salt used to melt snow seeps down into electrical cable beneath the road and starts a fire. Let’s just say that reading the NYC news you get the impression that Con Ed workmen in NYC constantly work very hard dealing with all the challenges of maintaining NYC’s electrical and gas services led withing an aging subterraneun infrastructure.
If you follow through watching the video of the most recent manhole cover explosion you will quickly realize that it’s not hard for mayhem to result. In this case a hotel and a TV News service had to be evacuated, there was obviously FDNY, NYPD and CON ED workmen all over the street doing their thing and traffic was snarled for 2 hours, shopping disrupted, but thankfully no one killed.
Given that a large round flying metal manhole cover is potentially pretty lethal, loss of life doesn’t happen all that often but it does unfortunately happen and while no one likes it there’s not much that can be done to stop it happening again because without those miles of tunnels and pipes and manhole covers, NYC couldn’t function. New Yorkers are philosophical, they live with them, but respect them. Nest time you are walking along the street, give them a quiet slaute but walk well clear, you never know w