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12 More Buildings Cleared To Reopen Near Site Of Flatiron District Steam Pipe Explosion

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- 12 more buildings that were evacuated following last week's steam pipe explosion in the Flatiron District are expected to reopen Tuesday.

It's been five days since the explosion shook the area of Fifth Avenue and 21st Street, shutting down streets and forcing people out of their apartments and businesses.

As crews continued to clean up the mess Tuesday, some are returning to work on Fifth Avenue.

"Everything cleared, the filters, the AC is all cleared," David Epstein, who works at Share This, said. "I heard some people can't even return to their homes yet so that's terrible."

"The building supposedly has been inspected and fine so I'm here," said Lisa Bernstein, who works at Take 5 Media Group.

But Bernstein and a colleague got turned away.

"They wanted to take an extra precaution and change the HVAC filters to make sure the air is 100 percent alright," said Eric Kivelevitz, who works at Take 5 Media Group.

"We really have no indication how long it will be before we can fully return and actually live in our homes again," said displaced resident David Bass.

Thursday's blast sent asbestos-filled steam into the air, which has been the overriding concern in the area.

Officials said air samples have tested negative and over half of the roughly 45 affected buildings have now been given the all clear following testing, but officials say the news for residents of 12 other buildings isn't so good; asbestos has been found inside.

Some of those buildings will take a week or two to decontaminate, according to NYC OEM Commissioner Joseph Esposito.

"Safety is paramount," he said. "We don't want somebody going back into the apartment and saying I'm sick six months later because I've been exposed to asbestos."

The OEM chief took CBS2 on a tour of the blast site, showing the spot where the steam pipe burst last week.

"We are constantly testing the air outside," said Esposito. "Before we let people re-enter the building, we are testing the air inside in all common areas of the building."

There was a tense meeting Monday night as city and Con Edison officials answered a firestorm of questions from those impacted. About 400 businesses have been affected.

"My people, they all want to come back to work and live life normal again," said store manager Danielle Storno.

"As a restaurant, people are not going to come if the whole area is blockaded and looks like a war zone," said restaurant owner Renee Typaldos.

Bus traffic was allowed on Fifth Avenue Monday, but it's unclear when the area will be back to business as usual.

Con Ed says it is giving $500 to everyone displaced and those who need to file claims for things such as hotels can do that.

The city is also providing live updates as buildings are cleared for reoccupation through information on the city's website

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