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Mysterious Odor Frightens New Yorkers

A mysterious gas-like odor swept over part of New York City, temporarily suspending some train service and forcing the evacuation of several buildings. But as VOA's Peter Heinlein reports, the city's mayor says there is no danger.

America's largest city got a scare early Monday when the smell associated with natural gas covered a large swath of Manhattan. Sirens blared, emergency vehicles raced through streets, people poured out of buildings, and some train stations were evacuated.

But nothing dangerous was discovered, and there was no immediate explanation for the odor. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a news conference to calm fears of a gas leak.

He said, "So far, the city's air sensors, and we have many of them around the city, do not report any elevated level of natural gas, there are no unusual levels."

Bloomberg said authorities are investigating a possible leak of mercaptan, a harmless chemical that is added to the normally odorless and potentially fatal natural gas to warn people of danger.

"Concentrations of the gas are not strong enough to be harmful," he said. "But the smell of mercaptan certainly is unpleasant, and our suggestion is that people should do the best to ventilate areas, open their windows, or turn on their fans until this gas passes."

Five years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, fears of terrorism haunt many New Yorkers.

A spokesman for the city's natural gas utility said more than 700 residents had called in to report the smell, which spread as office buildings were filling with employees. He said a team of 60 workers had fanned out across lower and mid-town Manhattan, but had found nothing unusual.