A thunderous explosion rocked a Chelsea street Saturday night — injuring at least 29 people, blasting out windows and sending scores of panicked pedestrians running for their lives, cops and witnesses said.
The ground-shaking detonation on W. 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. was “an intentional act,” Mayor de Blasio said at the scene, adding that the investigation is in its early stages.
“There is no evidence at this point of a terror connection,” the mayor said of the incident, which took place at about 8:30 p.m.
A second device, a pressure cooker with wires and a cell phone attached to it, was found in a white garbage bag four blocks away on W. 27th St., sources said.
There was also a piece of paper in the bag — but it wasn’t clear what was written on it, sources added.
The device was taken to an NYPD firing range on Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx, according to a source.
Police investigators sort through debris in search of evidence in front of St. Vincent de Paul Church, on W. 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves., following the explosion late Saturday.
Police investigated a third suspicious package at W. 28th St. and Fifth Ave, but determined at around 3:30 a.m. that it was only a tossed briefcase.
The NYPD asked residents on the torn-up block to stay away from windows facing the street until further notice.
Twenty-four of the 29 victims were rushed to area hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening, authorities said. One victim was in serious condition.
There were no arrests, according to police.
The blast near a residence for the blind blew out street-level windows and shook buildings blocks away.
Witness Deborah Griffith said the explosion looked “like a volcano.”
“It was red, orange in the middle. It was a circle of fire,” said Griffith, who’s in her 50s and lives in Manhattan. “The whole block shook. The fire was up in the air. People were running for their lives.”
The blast sent a Dumpster and chunks of shrapnel hurtling across the street, video shows.
Ramon Lopez, after sprinting away from a blast that felt like the “earth was shaking,” doubled back to help a handful of cut-up victims.
“Pieces of little metal, like half an inch, into their body, their face,” said Lopez, 48, of East Harlem.
“One lady had something in her eye. That lady I grabbed her arm. I needed to make sure she gets to the ambulance. I told her it was nothing serious, but she was bleeding a lot.”
About 20 residents were playing bingo inside the Associated Blind Housing facility at 135 W. 23rd St. when the detonation went off.
“Someone said it was thunder. I said, ‘No, it was an explosion,’” said Helen Murphy, 64, who is legally blind.
The explosion also locked down the elevator for the 12-story building, forcing Murphy and her neighbors to take the stairs.
She looked outside after reaching her eighth-floor apartment and could make out twisted scaffolding in front of the building, which has been under construction for two years.
Officials found a secondary device, a pressure cooker linked with wires and a cell phone, blocks away from the explosion.
“This is like a war zone,” she said. “I feel like I’m in Beirut.”
President Obama was briefed on the blast, which occurred 11 hours after a pipe bomb blew up in a garbage can in Seaside Park, N.J., 80 miles south of the city.
The device, which was placed in a garbage can, went off as the Semper Five K Charity Run was about to start. There were no reported injuries.
De Blasio said there was “no specific connection” to the Seaside Park incident at this point.
A fleet of agencies — including the NYPD Counterterrorism Unit and Bomb Squad, FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — were working to identify the source of the explosion.
Shrapnel struck these two victims, seen moments after the Chelsea blast.
(Courtesy of Ramon Lopez)
Initial accounts suggested an explosive device was placed inside a Dumpster, but city officials refused to confirm those reports.
Sources told the Daily News the explosion appeared to originate inside a large construction site toolbox.
The harrowing incident thrust NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill into the spotlight on his first full day on the job.
“At this time, the exact cause of the explosion has not been determined,” O’Neill said at the scene.
Several bloody victims were spotted inside the Bellevue Hospital Emergency Room where cops wearing SWAT gear and holding rifles were on guard.
One of the wounded, identified as Melinda Bago, appeared to still be in shock as she emerged from the hospital with no visible signs of injury.
“I was there. I don’t have any information. It happened so fast,” Bago said.
David Martinez, 34, hobbled out of Bellevue on crutches early Sunday.
He blacked out after driving within 10 feet of the blast. He suffered unspecified injuries to his knee and head, while his girlfriend was not visibly hurt.
“We was just driving. Something exploded. I almost tipped over,” Martinez said. “Then they brought me to the hospital and that’s all I can remember.”
Tsitsi Merritt, of Brooklyn, stands behind her car after its back window was blown out by the explosion. She said she had been making a U-turn on 23 St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. when the blast went off right next to her.
(Jefferson Siegel for New York Daily News)
Ryan McMillen, 44, was heading into the subway station at 23rd St. and Sixth Ave. with his wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 7, when the blast shook the street.
“It felt like a pipe bomb,” said McMillen, a Mercy College history professor from Park Slope. “It wasn’t huge. It was some sort of a bomb. It wasn’t a car backfiring … I still feel it in my chest.”
McMillen said the explosion blew out the rear window of an SUV near the subway entrance — and triggered chaos on the street.
“Everybody started running and screaming,” said McMillen, who jumped into a taxi with his family and sped from the scene.
Police subsequently shut off the street surrounding the blast site and began combing garbage cans for secondary devices as a precaution.
Anthony Morali, 58, was on his way from his Chelsea home to a Midtown bar when he was throttled by a deafening boom.
“What I first heard was a tremendous loud sound — boom!” said Morali, an architect. “I thought it was a gas explosion. It sounded like when they drop those huge steel plates on the street.”
Social media users posted frantic messages after hearing — and feeling — the seismic boom.
“Massive explosion on 23rd btwn 6 and 7,” tweeted John Healy. “I was a block away and it shook the whole building.”
MD Rahman, a Popeye’s Chicken manager, stepped out of his store at Eighth Ave. and W. 23rd St. to smoke a cigarette when he felt the concussive force.
David Martinez (right) said he blacked out after driving within 10 feet of the blast on Manhattan’s West Side.
(Ross Keith/New York Daily News)
“The floor was shaking,” he said. “I felt that and I said, ‘What happened?’ I came back inside. I thought something was going to be damaged. I saw all the fire engines. I thought it was a fire.”
Olive McFarland, who works at a Burlington Coat Factory on Sixth Ave. near W. 22nd St., said several people rushed inside the store after the blast — including a young woman with a nasty gash over her eye.
“She was panicking,” said McFarland, 40, of the Bronx.
Soleil Filomena was among the fleeing witnesses.
“I saw smoke. It was like a huge mushroom cloud. My ear was ringing,” said Filomena, 64.
A dented dumpster is seen after it was blasted across the street by the detonation in Chelsea.
(Obtained by the Daily News)
Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, was walking home along 23rd St. near Ninth Ave. when he saw people running from the explosion.
“People seem freaked out. People weren’t sure what was going on,” Johnson said. “Suddenly you have hundreds of firefighters, FBI agents, counter-terrorism officials. People were understandably freaked out and wondering what was going on.”
Meanwhile in Colorado Springs — before any official word on what caused the blast was announced — GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump stepped off his private jet at 9 p.m. and told supporters “a bomb went off in New York.”
“Nobody knows exactly what’s going on, but boy we are living in a time,” he said. “We better get very tough, folks.”
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign said that she had been briefed and was monitoring the situation.
Magician David Blaine, who lives near the blast site in Chelsea, said he feared that there was more carnage to come.
“I happen to live over here. I didn’t hear anything. I just know that the streets were shut down,” he said. “A small bomb in other places gets lots of people together, I don’t think people should hang out around here to be honest. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
The incident came more than two months after a college student stepped on a homemade explosive that blew off his left foot in Central Park.