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Manhattan Building Explodes, Dozens Hurt By Glass, Debris

Newsday -- new york

An explosion ripped through a building in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood Thursday, showering West 19th Street with debris and shards of glass, injuring nearly three dozen people, and hitting the city with an unsettling post-Sept. 11 fear.

The 11:27 a.m. explosion was touched off in the basement of Kaltech Architectural Signage, Fire Department officials said.

The blast pushed fast-moving air into a stairwell and three elevator shafts, causing windows in the building and an adjacent structure to shatter floor by floor as the air shot through the building’s 10 stories. The explosion caused little fire but a portion of the facade collapsed, Fire Department officials said.

Investigators said it appeared that workers accidentally sparked the blast while transferring a leaking 55-gallon barrel of lacquer thinner into another drum using an electric pump.

“It was pretty loud. We didn’t know what was going on,” said firefighter Ken Dorsey.

As Dorsey and his fellow firefighters geared up and ran toward the building, they thought they might be responding to another terrorist attack, he said.

“We were on guard for the possibility of a second explosion,” Dorsey said. “Of course that did cross our minds. You learn from the past.”

Peter Molina, 32, of Queens, a student at Apex Technical school next door, was in class at the time.

“All of a sudden there was an explosion,” Molina said. “Everyone in the classroom ran out. When we got outside, we realized it wasn’t our building.”

Then Molina spotted some people who “were covered with dark smoke, and blood was coming down their faces.” Some were being carried by police officers and firefighters, he said. A dark smoke cloud filled the street and “there were bricks and glass everywhere,” he said.

Twenty-four people were sent to area hospitals, including 10 who were critically or seriously injured. Another eight were treated at the scene and released, said Frank McCarton, deputy commissioner for public information for the mayor’s Office of Emergency Management.