By Sabina Mollot
On Tuesday at around 6 p.m., an underground electrical fire broke out in a service box inside a manhole under Stuyvesant Town, shutting down the businesses along First Avenue from 18th to 20th Streets.
No one was injured but the amount of smoke meant the stores had to evacuate — including the animal residents at Petland.
Carole Husiak, owner of clothing store Ibiza Kidz, was at work when the overhead began to flicker. At the time, she thought there was something wrong with the store’s bulbs, but a few minutes later, Stuyvesant Town employees ran in to tell her to turn off all the store’s power and evacuate.
“There were hundreds of firemen and trucks as far as you could see in both directions,” said Husiak. “I think they were anticipating an explosion.”
She then watched as firemen went in and out of the basement at 330 First Avenue, getting covered in smoke.
The transformer was located underneath the sidewalk in front of nearby stores Ess-a-Bagel and Petland, the latter of which Husiak helped evacuate of its animals.
“Petland was hit really badly,” she said, adding that the birds were evacuated first. Husiak ran to her apartment in Stuyvesant Town to get sheets to cover the cages, since “they were freaking out.” Guinea pigs, hamsters and reptiles were then evacuated and the store had no cats or dogs.
“I think they lost one guinea pig from smoke inhalation and I don’t know about the fish,” she added.
On Wednesday morning, Husiak was told that the stores were not likely to reopen for a couple of days. In the meantime, she said she would be assessing the extent of the damage from smoke on her shop and her merchandise, which includes new shipments of back to school clothing and winter coats. She also had to cancel a couple of kids’ events she had scheduled.
“It’s a huge loss of business,” she said.
Meanwhile, Con Ed crews, she observed, were working furiously at the scene to restore power to all the retailers between 18th and 20th Streets. Apartments, as far as she knew, still had power. A cleanup effort was also underway.
Michael Clenendin, a spokesperson for Con Ed, confirmed that there was damage to the utility’s service line to Stuyvesant Town as well as internal wiring in the stores, saying both Con Ed’s and the property’s electricians were working on repairs. However, he said he didn’t know when it was expected to be finished. Although it was expected that stores would get power back on Wednesday, it would still be up to electricians from the property to determine when they could reopen.
Stuyvesant Town General Manager Rick Hayduk also said on Wednesday that the damage was still being assessed.