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Work Halted At 2nd Avenue Subway Site As Blast Investigation Under Way

Contractors Hired To Do The Job Immediately Come Under Scrutiny
(credit: CBS 2)

(credit: CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Human error is being looked at as a possible cause of an underground explosion that rocked the Upper East Side Tuesday.

Surveillance video captured the moment smoke and debris began filling a section of 72nd Street near Second Avenue.

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the explosion happened 40 feet below street level as crews working on the Second Avenue subway line were making room for an escalator shaft.

Rocks and concrete broke at least a half-dozen windows. Witnesses said the street was left covered with debris.

“I was thrown off-balance because the whole building shook,” Upper East Side resident Carol Cusa said.

In addition to the possibility of human error, investigators also want to know if protective covering was put in place or was put in improperly prior to the blast, sources told CBS 2.

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“We have heard that there’s too much explosive use,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Adam Lisberg said. “We don’t have any reason to believe that.”

“When a blast goes off the most you should feel at street level is a thump. This was bigger than a thump. It should never have happened,” Lisberg told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

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And while the MTA said that what happened at 72d Street where workers were making room for an escalator shaft to a subway station should not have occurred, some wondered about the contractors hired to do the job.

There are actually three companies in a joint venture, and there are serious questions about two of them, CBS 2’s Kramer reported.

Schiavone Construction Company paid a $20 million fine in November 2010, reportedly after a Gambino family mobster — the family once run by John Gotti — reportedly taped conversations with company executives, setting up sham women- and minority-owned business companies in order to get MTA contracts to rehab subways and a city contract to build the Croton Water Filtration Plant in the Bronx.

The second company, J.F. Shea Construction, was fined $56,000 by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, for “serious violations” at a construction site in Fall River, Mass., in 2004.

OSHA found:

* Workers exposed to impalement by uncovered steel rods

* Workers exposed to electrocution from a 13,800-volt power line

* Workers being struck by a front-end loaded because a cracked window obscured the operator’s view

CBS 2’s Kramer asked Lisberg about the companies and Schiavone’s alleged mob ties.

“From what I understand I don’t know whether that has any relation to whose construction is actually concerned on a site. What we’re concerned with here is how blasting protocols worked,” Lisberg said.

An inspection by the Department of Buildings cleared suspicions of any structural damage to the buildings surrounding the area, though some who live and work in the neighborhood said they weren’t fully convinced it’s safe.

“It just makes me wonder a little bit more,” Upper East Side resident Scott Gilbert said. “I’m concerned.”

“I trust that precautions will be taken, but a little disconcerting,” Allison Taaffe said.

While the investigation continues, MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota released a statement saying the agency understands why area residents are upset and called what happened “completely unacceptable.”

“The MTA is investigating what went wrong and will not resume work at the 72nd Street site until we receive a full explanation for what happened and a plan to make sure it does not happen again,” he said. “I fully understand why neighbors of the construction site are upset. I am, too. The safety of the community is the MTA’s utmost priority. We will continue working with the community to ensure their concerns are heard and acted upon.”

No one was hurt in the blast.

Underground work at the location has been suspended until further notice.

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