By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Flatiron businesses owners impacted by last week’s steam blast were told on Monday night that they may have some recourse for their losses in the form of insurance claims or claims with Con Edison.
Representatives from the utility, the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Health, Small Business Services and the Department of Environmental Protection offered updates on the ongoing investigation and clean-up effort during a meeting at the Clinton School in Union Square on Monday night.
Joseph Esposito, the commissioner for the Office of Emergency Management, said that as of Monday night, 17 buildings had been cleared for reoccupancy and the OEM announced that 16 additional buildings had been cleared by Wednesday morning, with 12 still needing to be cleaned and checked before they can be reoccupied.
Small Business Services commissioner Gregg Bishop estimated at the meeting that about 400 businesses have been impacted by the explosion and the agency’s role is to help businesses get the resources they need to recover and help owners file claims.
“The first line of defense will be insurance,” Bishop said. “If the insurance company is giving you a hard time, the Department of Financial Services will work with you.”
He recommended that any business owners that don’t have insurance contact SBS or a resident reception center that’s been set up in the Clinton School at 10 East 15th Street.
Bishop also encouraged owners to file claims with Con Edison and said that SBS can help owners figure out what kind of damages may be covered. He noted that SBS will have a mobile unit in the neighborhood on Thursday. A specific location hasn’t been announced but Bishop said that more information about the mobile unit will be announced through the agency’s social media pages this week.
Con Edison President Tim Cawley said at the meeting that the agency has a claims process for business and building owners, and a handout from Con Ed at the meeting directed customers to fill out the forms online at coned.com/en/services-and-outages/claim-form. Business owners filing with Con Edison can file a general claim form and restaurants can file a food spoilage form with a cap of $10,200. Cawley also noted that Con Edison has a hotline set up at (212) 358-4565 for residents to contact about any unusual debris or other concerns.
Many of the concerns raised by residents and business owners at the meeting were about the possibility of asbestos in the air following the explosion, especially because representatives from the OEM and the DOH said that air quality is tested only in building common areas rather than apartments. An assistant commissioner from the Department of Health said that anyone concerned about the results of the air quality testing can submit a request at East 15th Street reception center for additional air samples.
DEP Assistant Commissioner Angela Licata also recommended that residents and business owners change the filters on their air conditioning units, and if the AC doesn’t have filter cartridges, the DEP recommends replacing the entire unit. Licata noted that the claims process through Con Edison can assist residents and owners with expenses incurred as a result of changing out filters and units.
FDNY Deputy Manhattan Borough Commander Michael Gala reported at the meeting that the explosion resulted in only 19 injuries, with the most serious being a firefighter who was treated for heat exhaustion and who has since been released from the hospital.
Flatiron BID executive director Jennifer Brown said that the meeting went mainly as she expected, although she said she was surprised there weren’t more questions about restitution and the claims process.
“Everything that was discussed at the meeting is what people have been expressing firsthand,” she said, referring to the environmental concerns that residents and owners raised at the meeting. “But it was helpful to narrow down the number of buildings that still need to be cleared. Hopefully we’ll start getting information in real time soon.”
Technical difficulties at the meeting also caused some anxiety among attendees, with low and echoing audio making it difficult to hear agency representatives for the first portion of the meeting meant to address concerns of the business owners in the area, but Brown said that the audio was fixed by the time a meeting held afterwards geared towards Flatiron residents began, helping the meeting run more smoothly.
As of Wednesday afternoon, OEM confirmed that the following 33 buildings of the 45 affected had been cleared: 119 Fifth Avenue (which includes 3 East 19th Street), 123 Fifth Avenue, 125 Fifth Avenue, 142 Fifth Avenue (which includes 1 West 19th Street, 5 West 19th Street), 146 Fifth Avenue, 162 Fifth Avenue (which includes 1 West 21st Street), 164 Fifth Avenue, 166 Fifth Avenue, 7 West 19th Street, 9 West 19th Street, 11 West 19th Street (which includes 17 West 19th Street, 10 West 20th Street and 16 West 20th Street), 5 West 20th Street, 6 West 20th Street, 7 West 20th Street, 9 West 20th Street, 11 West 20th Street, 15 West 20th Street, 17 West 20th Street, 4 West 21st Street (which includes 10 West 21st Street), 5 West 21st Street, 7 West 21st Street, 12 West 21st Street, 16 West 21st Street, 18 West 21st Street, 19 West 21st Street, 22 West 21st Street, 29 West 21st Street, 30 West 21st Street, 5 East 20th Street, 7 East 20th Street, 16 West 22nd Street (which includes 15 West 21st Street), 10 East 21th Street (which includes 915 Broadway) and 927 Broadway.
The following 12 buildings have not yet been cleared, as of Wednesday afternoon: 129-131 Fifth Avenue, 133 Fifth Avenue, 135 Fifth Avenue, 137 Fifth Avenue, 139 Fifth Avenue, 141 Fifth Avenue (which includes 145 Fifth Avenue), 144 Fifth Avenue, 155 Fifth Avenue, 160 Fifth Avenue, 149 Fifth Avenue (which includes 921 and 925 Broadway), 3 West 20th Street (which includes 156 Fifth Avenue) and 4 West 20th Street (which includes 150 Fifth Avenue).