New York Daily News
HE LIVES THRU HELL
‘Boom! Out of nowhere’ sidewalk erupts
Fireball erupts from sidewalk grate and engulfs Barry West (insets) last Thursday in Queens. The same grate exploded the day before. Con Ed had no explanation, but said it would investigate.
A Queens man headed to settle his cell phone bill nearly paid with his life. Death-defying Barry West remained hospitalized five days after a massive Queens fireball knocked him flat outside a T-Mobile store, with an underground transformer explosion sending raging flames and billowing smoke skyward through a sidewalk grate, authorities said Tuesday.
The man was instantly engulfed by the blaze and badly burned before staggering to safety.
“I feel lousy, lousy,” the victim told the Daily News from his Long Island hospital room. “I don’t remember too much. It was — boom! — out of nowhere .... I wasn’t able to move and it hurt like hell. I lost some skin all over.”
West, 57, remained in the Nassau County Medical Center for treatment of second-degree burns from last Thursday’s blast.
The explosion erupted as he strolled casually to pay his phone bill at a T-Mobile store in St. Albans. The terrifying blast was caught on video, with the unsuspecting West sent to the ground before reeling away from the raging subterranean fire.
Video obtained by the Daily News shows a similar explosion one day earlier in the exact same location, with a local pizzeria heavily damaged by the blast.
According to West, he literally did not know what hit him around 5:30 p.m. last Thursday as he headed toward the store’s front door on Farmers Blvd. near 117th Road.
“The flames pushed me out of the fire itself,” he recounted. “When did I realize what happened? After somebody told me, ‘Don’t move, stay right there,’ and called for help.”
The dazed victim, rattled by the force of the blast from the Consolidated Edison transformer, grabbed a metal fence post to gain his balance before his unsteady escape.
“We heard the big noise,” recalled a T-Mobile employee who witnessed the explosion and dialed 911. “It was loud, like a bomb went off ... It was very close to the store. When it exploded, I felt the heat on my face.”
Surveillance video shows smoke coming from a sidewalk grate moments before the street erupted in red and yellow flames. A second later, West walked out of the thick black smoke, his white T-shirt scorched.
A friend who visited West in the hospital said he is “in good spirits considering what he went through.” The pal, who gave his name as Leroy, said of West: “He’s a great dude. Pillar of this community. Everybody loves him.”
A neighboring grocery store manager recounted a similar explosion one day earlier outside the pizzeria next door to the T-Mobile outlet. The pizzeria’s front remained charred Tuesday.
“It’s not right,” said manager Tony Tendilla, who blamed Con Ed for the second blast. “They wait until something happens to do anything.”
According to the manager’s nephew, Beto Tendilla, firefighters arrived at the first blast and taped off the area before leaving Wednesday. A Con Edison crew appeared a short time later and left after about three hours with the grate still taped off.
“I thought they resolved it,” said Beto. “If anything, they should have put cones, some kind of barrier. They were there, they could have done something.”
“This was preventable, but Con Ed didn’t take action,” said Amritpal Singh, the damaged pizzeria’s owner. “They didn’t do anything on Wednesday.”
Con Edison said Tuesday that investigations were underway into both explosions, with investigators looking to determine exactly what went wrong.
“The safety of the public, our customers, and our employees is our number one priority,” said a Con Ed spokeswoman. “We are fully investigating the cause of this event which caused serious injury to a member of the public. We express our sincere concern for the victim and our regret for this incident. We wish him a full and fast recovery.”