Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I ♥ NY - P.U.

I never smelled it.

The first indication I had that something was amiss in Manhattan was when a colleague explained that her 10-minute commute from Chelsea had taken an hour!

Come to find out, the West Side of Manhattan smelled like natural gas was leaking everywhere. Buildings, subways and department stores were evacuated. People wandered in the streets asking: "What's that smell?"

I had taken the F train, the Sixth Avenue Local, from Kensington Brooklyn to Rockefeller Center.

Usually, I exit the subway onto Sixth Avenue at Radio City Music Hall, read the marquee, and people-watch for the few blocks to my building. Tourists and camera crews on those blocks of Sixth Avenue make for wonderful morning entertainment. I can also get off the F train, stay underground by walking through the Rockefeller Center Concourse and wind my way to the building lobby where elevators will take me to my desk.

Yesterday, I chose the latter, because it was raining pretty hard.

Eventually I heard about the smell.

People were understandably concerned that this smell was part of a terrorist plot.

I reminisced with friends about building fire alarms in late-2001 (post-9/11) that we had ignored in previous years, but which now drove some to the street in fear of bombings.

Those months after the crimes at the World Trade Center were wrought with suspicion and newly-warranted fear. I didn't know how to respond in those days. Giddiness and tears generally accompanied any technological glitch that affected the city, and that remained true the following year when the East Coast was struck by a blackout.

New Yorkers, always a suspicious lot to begin with, have had to assimilate terrorism into the process of public crisis. Most other Americans have still been spared the notion that large-scale crime will be committed against the general population. New Yorkers are reminded of 9/11 whenever any public anomaly strikes.

The day moved along: meetings followed by tasks, followed by the occasional glimpse at personal email and the news. Nothing new. No news. Same old story: New York Smells.

Then we learned that our Austin, Texas, office was closed because sixty birds fell dead from the sky in that city. It wasn't all the sparrows, the birds were not all larks, or starlings, or any particular type of bird where you could say, "Gee whizz, what's wrong with all the pigeons?" It was many kinds of birds, just randomly dropped from the sky overnight.

I was confused. An odd aroma was spreading across New York City, and something in the air in the Capital of Texas was killing birds.

I stayed in the office yesterday until six o'clock, and when I left, the smell was gone. So . . . I never smelled what Charles Sturcken of the New York Department of Environmental Protection said was a nasty smell, and he was "pretty sure it came from New Jersey."

Was the smelly stuff from New Jersey killing the birds in Texas, too?

I ♥ NY

This from the New York Daily News:
'It came from New Jersey'
Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Blame the big stink on New Jersey.

The mighty stench that blanketed swaths of the city, forced building and school evacuations, disrupted commuter train service - and even stoked fears of a terrorist attack - appears to have come from the other side of the Hudson River.

While the exact source and cause of the odor is still not clear, Charles Sturcken of the city Department of Environmental Protection said the agency was "pretty sure it came from New Jersey."

Specifically, the heavily industrialized Hudson County waterfront with its chemical plants and port terminals as well as the Secaucus area, Sturcken said. Seven people in the Garden State were briefly hospitalized as a result of exposure to the stench.

"I know it was detected in Bayonne," conceded Bayonne Deputy Fire Chief Gregory Rogers. "We had calls all morning; we came up with nothing."

The big stink didn't cause any injuries in New York and was mostly gone by midday, but it put a scare into a city that lives with constant reminders of the Sept. 11 attacks.

On average, the city's 911 system gets about 2,000 calls on Mondays between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. - the period during which the city lay beneath a mantle of malodorousness. But yesterday, there were 6,500 calls during that same period, NYPD Assistant Chief Michael Collins said.

Mayor Bloomberg said there was no reason to worry.

"It may just be an unpleasant smell," he said, adding that the cause may have been a chemical leak, not a gas leak.

He noted that natural gas has no odor; its distinctively unpleasant smell comes from the chemical methyl mercaptan, which is added to the odorless gas so a leak can be more easily detected.

While Con Ed workers responding to complaints detected a small gas leak at Bleecker St. and Sixth Ave., "the concentrations of the gas aren't strong enough to be harmful," Bloomberg said.

Also, a federal Homeland Security Department spokesman said "there is no indication at this time of a terrorism connection."

Still, the scare left 24-year-old Marcia Mendez jittery and reluctant to leave her Chelsea apartment. "These days you never know what's going on, or how serious it could be," she said.

Low clouds covered the city on a gray and drizzly morning when New Yorkers noticed a foul stench wafting through town. The first call to 311 came at 8:21 a.m. from Staten Island, Collins said.

While Con Ed crews fanned out to check gas lines, the NYPD dispatched counterterrorism cops to check out all possible leads - and even stopped a petroleum barge floating down the East River.

Other officers armed with monitors were sent out to take air samples from Battery Park north to midtown. All came out negative for toxins.

Meanwhile, PATH trains between Manhattan and Jersey City were stopped briefly starting about 9:52 a.m., and the 23rd St. subway station on the F line was shut down for about 40 minutes.

Outside Public School 11 on W. 21st St., one of the four schools in the affected area that was evacuated, worried parents collected their children.

"I heard it was real bad down here and I wanted to pick her up," said Edib Mansour, as he claimed his seventh-grade daughter, Chloe. "The smell was really strong on the train. They even made me feel dizzy and nauseous."

Danielle Alves, 41, raced down from the Bronx to fetch her 12-year-old daughter, Brianna.

"I heard the PATH trains were closed and was worried they might close other trains," she said. "After 9/11, I'm not taking any chances."

But when Alves got there, she found Brianna and the rest of her sixth-grade class still inside the school.

"I smelled gas in my math class, but they didn't evacuate the fifth floor," Brianna said.

New York is no stranger to strange smells. Last summer, five people on Staten Island were hospitalized for nausea and headaches after a mysterious odor wafted through the borough.

A year earlier, a smell that many likened to maple syrup confounded Manhattanites.

In both cases, the sources of the stench were never discovered.

With Austin Fenner, Noah Fowle, Tamer El-Ghobashy and Joe Mahoney

This from the Chicago Tribue:
Downtown Austin shut after 63 birds die off

Associated Press
Published January 9, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas -- Police shut down 10 blocks in downtown Austin for several hours Monday after 63 birds were found dead in the street, but officials said preliminary tests found no threat to people.

Workers in yellow hazardous-materials suits tested for contaminants in a cordoned-off section near the state Capitol and the governor's mansion before authorities finally gave the all-clear in the afternoon.

Although officials could not immediately determine whether poison or something else killed the birds, "there's no threat to humans at this point," said Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald.

The dead grackles, sparrows and pigeons will be tested.

Grackles are crowlike birds regarded as major pests in Texas, with Austin sidewalks sometimes covered in their droppings.

The dead birds were found overnight along Congress Avenue, a major downtown thoroughfare. Police closed the route through downtown and two side streets, and a staging area was set up near the Capitol, with dozens of firetrucks, police cars and ambulances.

The Capitol opened on schedule, however, and the governor was not asked to leave the mansion.

Dr. Adolfo Valadez, medical director for the Austin and Travis County Health and Human Services Division, said officials do not believe bird flu is involved.

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