By  on July 19, 2007

NEW YORK — An underground steam pipe explosion near Grand Central Terminal during the evening rush hour caused panic and disrupted some retailers in the area.

One person was killed and there were reports of at least 20 people injured.

The blast, at East 41st Street between Third and Lexington Avenues, was "not terrorist related,'' Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said in a statement.

Nonetheless, the plume of smoke and rubble triggered widespread anxiety and led to the evacuations of some buildings in the area. The cause of the blast was not immediately determined.

It appeared retailers such as Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft and Kenneth Cole were affected.

Hundreds of firefighters and police officers were on the scene. The 4, 5 and 6 subway trains were shut down throughout Manhattan and shuttle service from Grand Central to Times Square was terminated, authorities said. However, Metro-North commuter rail service was operating.

Waves of people just getting off work and those working in the surrounding buildings flooded into the streets as news spread of the explosion, which occurred about 6 p.m. Police officers pushed crowds of onlookers back several blocks as a jet of steam shot several hundred feet into the air.

Retailers in the immediate vicinity of the explosion were evacuated. Telephone calls to Banana Republic, Aerosoles, Ann Taylor Loft and Kenneth Cole stores located in or around the Grand Central area were unanswered. However, other stores only blocks away from the explosion reported that they were still open for business.

The Ann Taylor store on 43rd and Madison was still open at around 7 p.m., a little more than an hour after the explosion. A saleswoman at the store said they hadn't heard or felt the blast.

"Just our lights flickered and then we saw the running," she said.

Ann Taylor's corporate offices had called to check in on the store, the saleswoman said. "People are starting to clear out now," she said. "The building hasn't evacuated so once the building tells us we need to go, we'll go."

Gap, located on 42nd Street and Third Avenue, was open for normal business hours, as well, and had plans to stay open until its usual 9 p.m. At 7 p.m. the store was serving customers."It's business as usual," said the store's manager.

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