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Exploding manholes: One of many New York City traditions

The winter weather in New York this year has been burdensome, to say the least. Heavy snow alone is difficult and dangerous enough. But when heavy snow and road salt interact with New York City's aging underground infrastructure, things can go from bad to worse very quickly.

Lately, the city has been having more trouble (than usual) with exploding manhole covers. Earlier this month, a 71-year-old man out walking his dog was severely injured when a 70-pound manhole cover became airborne and struck him in the head.

According to an article in the Village Voice, manhole explosions are usually the result of sparks from frayed cables and exposed wires. The sparks ignite sewer gas and other flammable compounds in the air, causing violent flames. If there is enough unvented pressure with nowhere to go, it can easily blow a heavy manhole cover into the air.

While manhole explosions could happen at any time of year, they tend to occur in winter because road salt and melted snow/ice seep underground, hastening corrosion of wires. Over a two or three-day period earlier this month, Con Edison received hundreds of calls reporting incidents related to manhole explosions, fires and smoke. Just one day after the injurious accident mentioned above, elevated levels of carbon monoxide were detected after a manhole explosion a couple blocks away from the first one. Six buildings were evacuated by the fire department.

While certain accidents and injuries cannot be predicted or prevented, many can be. And it is up to the city to keep residents and tourists safe from known hazards. If you were injured on public or private property due to another person's negligence, you may wish to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about your rights and legal options.

Source: The New York Times, "When Part of the Streetscape Turns Into a Flying Danger," Vivian Yee, Feb. 4, 2015

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