Steam pipe used to heat and cool buildings ruptured during city's rush hour

One person has been killed and at least 20 injured in New York after the explosion of a steam pipe used to heat and cool buildings.

Last night’s explosion, in midtown Manhattan, forced the evacuation of Grand Central station and nearby streets. The 83-year-old pipe was one of a network beneath the streets of New York through which steam is pumped to heat and cool buildings.

It is not yet clear exactly what caused the accident, which occurred in New York’s evening rush hour. However reports have suggested that it may have been due to cold water entering the pipe or to a break somewhere in the system.

The New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has expressed fears that asbestos may have been released during the explosion, as the substance has historically been used to insulate pipes. Environmental officials have ordered local residents and workers to remain indoors or stay out of the area while tests for the substance are carried out.