Pressure Cookers Planted In NYC Subway Spark Morning Chaos

FINANCIAL DISTRICT, NY — Pressure cookers found throughout Manhattan Friday forced the evacuation of a downtown subway hub and closed Chelsea streets as bomb squad officers scrambled to deem them safe.

Police confirmed the two cookers found in Fulton Street subway station and a third found beside garbage in Chelsea were empty and not a threat. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested they were planted intentionally to cause panic.

Cops found two rice cookers on a platform and a mezzanine at the Fulton Street subway station in the Financial District at about 7 a.m., NYPD officials said.

A third cooker of the same model was discovered about an hour later, around 8:10 a.m., at 16th Street and Seventh Avenue, police said. It appeared to be put out with the garbage and “may or may not be related” to the other two, NYPD Chief of Transit Edward Delatorre said.

Police want to question a man with a shopping cart who was caught on video placing the devices in the subway station, said John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

“It is possible that somebody put out a bunch of items in the trash today and this guy picked them up and then discarded them, or it’s possible that this was an intentional act,” Miller said at a news conference.

Miller described the man as a person of interest, not a suspect, and said his intentions were unclear. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested the cookers were planted to stoke fear.

“The suspicion is that they were placed there to suggest that they were electronic devices and possible bombs,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a Friday morning radio interview.

Several cops, a police dog and at least half a dozen police vehicles, including a bomb squad truck, swarmed the station entrance at William and Fulton streets as commuters were cleared out Friday morning, according to the NYPD and social media posts from witnesses.

The Fulton Street hub is among the busiest stations in New York City’s sprawling subway system. More than 25.1 million people rode through it in 2016, the seventh-highest ridership of any stop that year, according to the MTA.

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Ruben Melo of Oceanside, Long Island was heading to work on Wall Street when he had to evacuate the southbound 2/3 train he was riding. The exodus was orderly and “very cordial,” though riders had to wait on the train for 15 to 20 minutes before leaving, he said.

“People were more annoyed then anything else,” Melo told Patch in a Twitter message.

Trains on all eight lines that run through Fulton Street — the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J and Z — skipped over the station as police investigated the devices, MTA officials said. All lines except the 2 and 3 were back to normal as of about 10:15 a.m., according to the transit agency.

Chris Tuttle saw police cordoning off Seventh Avenue between 16th and 17th streets as he was walking his dogs around 8:30 a.m., he said. Cops were telling people to leave the area when he spotted the third device, which police later deemed safe.

“That’s when I noticed the pressure cooker sitting out in plain sight on the side of the curb next to a trashcan, in front of the Williams-Sonoma home store,” Tuttle, who lives a block away from the scene, said in a Twitter message.

About a dozen people were in the area heading to work or also walking dogs when the device was discovered, Tuttle said. He said he spoke with several people who thought the situation was “scary especially in our neighborhood, and wondering what’s happening in this world these days, yet also hopeful it was another fake like the others.”

Kaitlyn Muns immediately called a car for her fiancée to go to work when they found out about the pressure cooker while sitting at a nearby Starbucks.

Muns, who lives around the corner from the scene at 15th Street and Seventh Avenue, saw officers checking bushes and planters on her block for possible devices, she said. She called the ordeal “nerve-wracking.”

“It’s just kind of sad,” Muns said. “It sucks that this is the state of the world where you can’t even feel safe in your neighborhood. That’s not a good way to be living.”

Nikki Silfen was locked out of the Chelsea home she moved into a week ago for about an hour, she said.

“It’s not the most settling feeling,” said Silfen, a consultant. “But I guess … at least they found it.”

John Spreitzer was coming back from the gym at about 8:30 a.m. to find he was also blocked from returning to his apartment. He didn’t panic — the cops had by then closed off the area and had the search controlled.

“It’s kind of the norm now, unfortunately,” said Spreitzer, who works in commercial real estate.

The appearance of the pressure cookers were reminiscent of recent bombings that shocked and terrified the city.

A pressure-cooker bomb exploded on a Chelsea block on Sept. 17, 2016, reportedly breaking windows and damaging nearby buildings. A second device was found nearby.

And Akayed Ullah of Brooklyn set off a bomb in a tunnel near the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Dec. 13, 2017, injuring himself and three others.

“In context, people know what they’re looking for,” Miller said Friday morning.

Patch editor Sydney Pereira contributed reporting and writing to this story.

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