A fire at a sewage treatment plant in Harlem shut down the Henry Hudson Parkway Wednesday afternoon, snarling traffic on the West Side from lower Manhattan past the George Washington Bridge all afternoon and well past the normal rush hour. It took drivers over 90 minutes just to travel from the Holland Tunnel up to the GW Bridge after the roadway was re-opened.
An explosion and fire in the engine room of the plant, also known as the North River wastewater treatment plant, sent flames 30 feet into the air. It also forced an evacuation of about 1,000 people from Riverbank State Park above the plant.
Deputy Fire Chief Joe Woznica said the four-alarm blaze, which broke out around noon, was fed by diesel fuel and battled with foam.
“It’s a large area. By the time [firefighters] were able to access the area where the main body of fire was, we’re already expended and needed to be relieved,” told reporters.
“With the exception of the firefighters who were taken for heat exhaustion, everyone’s accounted for with no injuries,” DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway said.
Holloway said the plant — one of 14 in New York City — was taken offline, but customers shouldn’t notice any problems. Officials were working Wednesday night to get the plant back up and running.
NY Daily News reported that the city Health Department is warning swimmers and kayakers to stay out of the Hudson River – causing the city to pump raw sewage into the water, officials said.
“It would take at least 48 hours of continuous discharge before there was any significant impact on water quality for New York City beaches,” said Farrell Sklerov, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.
If the facility is shut down more than 96 hours, some city beaches may need to be closed, Sklerov said.
“Our guys are going into the building assessing the damage, seeing what has to be done to put the plant back on line,” Sklerov said.
Untreated city sewage is routinely discharged during heavy rains, which dilutes it.
The plant was opened in 1986 and treats up to 170 million gallons of wastewater a day.
“People were running out,” said a plant employee, who declined to give his name. People just wanted to get out.”
Riverbank State Park, which is on the roof of the plant, was evacuated as 168 firefighters worked in 90-plus degree temperatures to control the fire.
The blaze burned for more than three hours, officials said, after fuel under pressure created a 30-foot plume of fire at 11:46a.m. in the engine room of the North River wastewater treatment plant on W.135thSt
Two firefighters suffered from heat exhaustion while battling the fire. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.