3 buildings evacuated after manhole explosions in Astoria

ASTORIA, Queens (WABC) -- At least three buildings and dozens of people were evacuated following a series of manhole explosions in Queens on Tuesday.

The incident was reported just before 3 p.m. at 31-17 Broadway.

It all started when a manhole cover exploded and was followed by a stubborn underground fire. Then further down the block, flames broke out at a second manhole.

Carlos Villamarin was working out at his gym when the manhole exploded. He usually parks at the gym's lot, but it was full.

So he parked his Honda on the street tight over the manhole cover which then shot right into his undercarriage. It blew his fender across the street.

"Pretty upset, but I'm going to try to not to ruin my day anymore, things happen," Villamarin said.

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Crews assessed neighboring structures for possible carbon monoxide seepage as a result of the fire.

Due to elevated levels found, 30 people from buildings at 31-01, 31-11 and 31-17 were evacuated, FDNY officials said.

A handful of buildings also lost power, but no injuries were reported.

Firefighters say thick black smoke just kept pouring out of the manhole that exploded which sent the carbon monoxide into the buildings.

Officials said the blast was caused by a volatile cocktail of road salt mixed with an aging, underground system.

"You got old wires, old infrastructure, whenever it snows, you got the salt mix with water, it eats away at insulation of wire, it arcs, causes a problem, it exploded," said FDNY Chief Brian Deery.

If there is a silver lining, officials credit Villamarin's car for acting as a protective shield and stopping the exploding manhole cover from turning into a dangerous projectile.

Con Ed says power outages resulting from the explosion are expected be restored sometime Tuesday night.

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