NEW YORK: An explosion in Manhattan’s crowded Chelsea neighborhood on Saturday night left 29 people injured, and authorities said a second nearby site was also being investigated.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, but local media reports suggested that it had occurred in a dumpster.
The blast happened on 23rd Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in Manhattan in front of a residence for the blind, near a major thoroughfare with many restaurants and a Trader Joe’s supermarket.
“There was an explosion earlier tonight at around 8:00pm, several people injured,” a police spokesman told AFP.
Witnesses say the explosion blew out the windows of businesses and scattered debris in the area. Officials said no evacuations were necessary.
Police spokesman J. Peter Donald tweeted a warning to residents near the second site that officials are investigating, saying: “As a precautionary measure, we are asking residents who live on West 27th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan to stay away from windows facing 27th Street until we clear the suspicious.”
Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said several people were taken to hospitals with injuries. One of the injured suffered a puncture wound that was considered serious. He said the other injuries were minor, described as scrapes and bruises.
Witnesses living three blocks away told AFP they heard a large boom from their fifth floor apartment, followed by quiet, then the sound of sirens.
An AFP journalist at the scene said police had sealed off the area and shut down the closest subway station. Police helicopters circled overhead.
The FBI and Homeland Security officials, along with the ATF arson and explosive task force were also at the scene.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that a second device that officers were investigating four blocks from the scene appeared to be a pressure cooker attached to wiring and a cellphone.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorised to speak about an ongoing investigation, said the device was found inside a plastic bag on West 27th Street.
The law enforcement official also said that the explosion appears to have come from a construction toolbox in front of a building. Photos from the scene show a twisted and crumpled black metal box.
Chelsea is one of the most fashionable districts of Manhattan, packed with bars, restaurants and luxury apartments that would be crowded in the weekend.
President Barack Obama “has been apprised of the explosion in New York City, the cause of which remains under investigation,” said a White House official, adding that the president will receive updates on the situation as they become available.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the blast an “intentional act,” but said there was no terrorist connection. “Tonight, New York City experienced a very bad incident,” de Blasio said at a news conference near the scene in Chelsea. “We have no credible and specific threat at this moment.”
De Blasio said the blast was “an intentional act” and tried to calm any fears among nervous New Yorkers, saying the explosion had no terrorist connection and wasn’t related to a pipe bomb explosion earlier Saturday in New Jersey at a charity run.
The explosion came hours after a pipe bomb exploded in a garbage can in Seaside Park, New Jersey during a Marine Corps charity run. It caused no injuries but forced officials to cancel the event.
The New Jersey explosion was set for the moment that thousands of runners would be passing the can – but there were no casualties because the race was delayed, said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County prosecutor.
There were up to four timed explosives but only one detonated, Fave told CNN.
A number of New York City subway routes were affected by the explosion, which rattled some New Yorkers just weeks after the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Chris Gonzalez, visiting from Dallas, was having dinner with friends at a restaurant in the area. “We felt it, we heard it, the restaurant went real quiet,” the 26-year-old Gonzalez said. “It wasn’t like jolting or anything, everyone just went quiet.”
Rudy Alcide, a bouncer at Vanity Nightclub at 21st Street and 6th Avenue, said he, at first, thought something large had fallen. “It was an extremely loud noise, everything was shaking, the windows were shaking, it was crazy,” he said. “It was extremely loud, almost like thunder, but louder.”
Hillary Clinton said she has been briefed “about the bombings in New York and New Jersey and the attack in Minnesota.” She said the nation needs to support its first responders and “pray for the victims.”
“We have to let this investigation unfold,” she said.
Donald Trump moved ahead of New York City officials when he declared a “bomb went off” in the city before officials had released details.
He made the announcement minutes after stepping off his plane during a rally at an airport hangar in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I must tell you that just before I got off the plane a bomb went off in New York and nobody knows what’s going on,” Trump said.
He continued, “But boy we are living in a time ─ we better get very tough, folks. We better get very, very tough. It’s a terrible thing that’s going on in our world, in our country and we are going to get tough and smart and vigilant.”
The Republican presidential nominee made the comments around 9:10pm, shortly after the explosion and as emergency officials responded to the blast.
A spokeswoman for Trump did not respond to an email asking whether he was briefed about the incident before taking the stage.