It was just about noon on October 6, 1950—a day seemingly like any other day in Greenpoint—but five minutes later all hell would break loose. America was at the height of the Red Scare and news that the Soviets had the bomb was in everyone’s mind. Constant air raid drilling and the creation of local fallout shelters in the case of nuclear war only heightened anxiety even higher.

Suddenly a massive ear splitting explosion at Huron and Manhattan Avenue occurred causing terror. The power of the blast was so great that it blew manhole covers fifty feet in the air like champagne corks and a ten foot section of the street was vaporized. A reinforced concrete sewer was blown to pieces. Five hundred windows were shattered by the powerful explosion as blue flame belched from the manholes.

For locals there was one explanation; the Russians had bombed New York.

One frightened woman shouted out, “The Russians dropped an atom bomb, we’ll all be burned alive!”

Hundreds of frightened families headed out to the streets certain that they would be roasted if they stayed indoors. Twenty police cars and three police emergency squads rushed to the scene. Amazingly, only three people were slightly injured.

The city performed tests and learned that the blast was the result of an explosion of gas and oil fumes in the sewer. The explosion was soon forgotten. It was only twenty-eight years later Greenpointers would learn the true cause of the explosion. On September 1978, a United States Coast Guard helicopter on a routine patrol discovered a plume of oil flowing in the creek, originating from a bulkhead at Meeker Avenue.

Investigations revealed that there were seventeen million gallons of oil under the ground covering fifty acres in and around Greenpoint. The sewer blew up because Greenpoint was sitting on a massive amount of potentially explosive oil in its aquifer. Today cleanup efforts have been under way for years, but still millions of gallons of oil sit in a plume under Eastern Greenpoint. The fear today is not of explosion, but of cancer caused by carcinogenic hydrocarbons in the oil and gas. Those frightened Greenpointers in 1950 had no idea of the real danger lurking beneath their streets.

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  1. My father was a worker for Mobil oil. I have a childhood memory of the tanks exploding. My dad went to help. We all stood across the street from the refinery watching them burn. I was terrified my dad would get hurt. He came home blackened and smelling of oil and gas.
    Do you have any information about that?
    Thanks.

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