N.Y. gas odor causes evacuations, disruptions

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NEW YORK -- The smell of gas over large parts of Manhattan led to building evacuations and temporary commuter train service interruptions Monday morning, but most media and entertainment companies here went about their business nearly as usual after authorities said the situation was not dangerous.

With the smell triggering memories of the Sept. 11 attacks and industry news mainly expected from the West Coast this week thanks to the International Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld, early-morning chatter at many offices focused on the gas situation. But by midday, the scare was over, and people turned their attention to other business.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a morning news conference reported only a small gas leak in Manhattan's Greenwich Village and said the "unpleasant smell" started around 9 a.m. ET, with the origin to be determined. "The one thing we are confident about is it is not dangerous," he added.

E-mail memos that some city workers received around 11 a.m. said that the New York Fire Department would continue its search for the source of the odor, and that the city has reported no unsafe levels of gas detected by its sensors.

Industry executives had different experiences with the situation.

"The 8th floor in 550 Madison (at 55th Street) smells like the stove I had in my apartment at college," Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard said of the Sony building.

Smells also were reported at ABC News and the CBS News broadcast center on the Upper West Side, but no evacuations or trouble were reported.

A CBS Corp. spokeswoman confirmed that "there have not been any evacuations here at Black Rock," the company's headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.

A Viacom Inc. spokeswoman said: "No Viacom operations have been impacted. Our building management controlled the vents as soon as the problem was reported."

ThinkFilm's head of U.S. theatrical Mark Urman, whose office is in the Flatiron District, had noticed little. "Hadn't heard a word about gas, so I guess we weren't at all affected," he said.

Representatives at Picturehouse in Rockefeller Center and Miramax Films in SoHo also reported no problems, but PR firm 42West (formerly the Dart Group) shut down its Times Square office at 10:30 a.m.

"The building shut off the air conditioning as a precaution, and everyone said you really smelled the gas heavily," said partner Amanda Lundberg, who initially stayed with her daughter at school on the Upper West Side before returning home. "You were hearing reports that it was coming from 39th Street, the Upper West Side, New Jersey, and that the subways were being closed. It was unsettling, so it seemed like the best idea to have everyone at home working from their BlackBerrys, cell phones and laptops."

With many New Yorkers running around with colds, some pointed out that not everyone would have noticed the gas smell if it hadn't been for all the talk at water coolers and on cable news shows.

"We're not tremendously affected," said Likely Story producer Anthony Bregman, who shares offices with former This Is That Prods. partners Ted Hope and Anne Carey in Chelsea. "Everyone around here has colds and stuffy noses. I'm not sure anyone would notice if there were a dead cow rotting in the Xerox room."

Paul J. Gough and Reuters contributed to this report.
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