View Full Version : Five Injured as Transformer Blast Creates a Terror Scene

July 1st, 2005, 11:41 PM
Five Injured as Transformer Blast Creates a Terror Scene


Published: July 2, 2005

A fruit and vegetable market near a busy Brooklyn intersection became a scene of terror and pandemonium yesterday when a transformer exploded outside the store, sending flames and hot gases roaring up from the sidewalk.

Five people were injured, including a woman walking into the store, the Ralph Avenue Fresh Farm market in Bedford-Stuyvesant, who was so badly burned that witnesses said they saw skin peeling off her arm.

"I was approaching the store when I heard a loud boom, and then I saw all the fire and saw people running and screaming and yelling," said Jackie Fields, 30. "I thought it was a terrorist attack."

The transformer, which belongs to Consolidated Edison, exploded about 12:45 p.m. outside the entrance to the store, which is near Ralph Avenue and Broadway. The blast knocked off the transformer's half-inch-thick steel cover, and a flame shot up, burning a hole in the market's green awning.

"It looked like a geyser exploded," said Uitaek Lee, 51, the market's owner, who was inside the store a few feet from the point of the explosion. "Three or four people who were there fell down."

The woman whose arm was badly burned was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital, fire officials said. Another woman suffered less serious burns, the officials said. She and three other people who were injured but not burned were taken to local hospitals. None of the victims' names were released.

Firefighters arrived minutes after the blast, and the fire was under control by 1:18 p.m., said Tommy Gerardi, a spokesman for the Fire Department.

Transformers sometimes explode when they are overloaded. But in this case the transformer did not appear to have overloaded and it was not clear what caused it to blow up, said Michael S. Clendenin, a spokesman for Con Edison. It contained 330 gallons of a type of coolant that is flammable, he said.

"We're going to examine the equipment inside the transformer to find out what led to the fire," Mr. Clendenin said. "We should know within a week." He further explained that transformers can catch fire for various reasons, including short circuits, overloading, overheating or deteriorated insulation. Fires can release gases, like carbon monoxide, which can lead to a buildup of pressure and cause an explosion.

An underground explosion last September near the Port Authority Bus Terminal blew manhole covers 10 feet into the air and injured five people.

Moments after yesterday's explosion, Abrahim Abdalla, 30, a security guard from a store next door, rushed over with a fire extinguisher and helped put the fire out, several witnesses said.

"I saw something, and I thought it was a bomb," Mr. Abdalla said. "So I searched for something to help put out the fire."

Inside, Mr. Lee was getting water and paper towels for the victims, said his wife, Kae-Ae Lee, 45. One of the victims, a nun, was lying on the ground, crying, "Help me," Mrs. Lee said.

The flames left rows of melons, peaches, grapes and bell peppers blackened, some of them with melted plastic wrappers over them.

The nun, Sister Maria Rosa Lopateguy of the Carmelite Sisters of Mercy on Putnam Avenue in Brooklyn, said she left the scene of the explosion without realizing that her hand had been injured. It was only afterward, when she was shopping for fish, that the owner of the fish store told her that the back of her habit was badly singed, she said.

"Once I got out of the flames I didn't realize what had happened," she said as she sat in the waiting room with another nun at Woodhull Hospital. "I feel very lucky that I am alive."

Jess Wisloski contributed reporting for this article.

After an underground transformer exploded Friday on Ralph Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Kae-Ae Lee photographed her market.

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