Before the explosion, Margo Kane was the type of Manhattan lady who, at age 70, still loved to be on her feet, preferably in elegant heels, except when she was on one of her vigorous exercise walks. On those occasions, she would march the mile to Union Square and back while listening to a tape of a drill sergeant calling out the cadence.
All that changed July 18, 2007, when one of the powerful steam pipes hidden beneath the city’s streets erupted like a volcano as she strolled to a hairdressing appointment.
Five years later, Kane is still dealing with the painful aftermath of the blast, which tore off much of her right leg and foot below the shin and triggered a cascade of medical problems.
And she still hasn’t received a dime from Consolidated Edison Inc., the utility that owned the pipe.
“Not even a get-well card,” she said.
Con Edison quickly reached settlements with two of the most high-profile blast victims: a horribly burned tow truck driver and his passenger. Both were hit with the full force of the steam geyser when the truck was swallowed up by the huge crater created by the explosion.
Other victims, like Kane and the family of Lois Baumerich, a 51-year-old New Jersey woman who was literally scared to death by the blast — she suffered a fatal heart attack — have had to wait as the utility has wrestled in court with a repair contractor and the city over who deserves the most blame.
In an interview Wednesday on the anniversary of the explosion, Kane, now 75, said she can’t help but feel cheated by the system, if not by Con Edison.
A dozen major surgeries, including a transplant of muscle from her abdomen, have saved most of her severed foot and recreated missing parts of her leg, but the limb remains a grotesque wreck. She has no heel or ankle joint. While she can putter around her apartment, walking more than a couple of blocks becomes excruciating.
“Every step is painful,” she said.
Those marches to Union Square and those sophisticated shoes she loved, “That’s all over,” she said. She also can’t drive or push the pedals on her piano. “And I am getting fat because I can’t walk,” she added.
In a statement, Con Edison said it has upgraded its steam system since the accident. The utility added that since Kane has an attorney, it would be inappropriate for company officials to contact her directly, even to send a card. But the company did express sympathy.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with Ms. Kane and all the others who were affected,” the statement said.
About 90 lawsuits related to the explosion remain unresolved, including those filed by people who suffered injuries, had property damaged or had businesses that were forced to close, the company said.
A lawyer for Baumerich’s family, Ronald Berman, called the pace of litigation “glacial” and said the past five years have been consumed by an “endless” series of depositions by Con Edison, city officials and the repair contractor, Team Industrial Services.
“It’s held up everyone’s case,” he said.
Kane’s lawyer, Anthony Martine, said there is no reason why Con Ed can’t settle with individual victims while continuing to wage its fight with Team Industrial and the city over responsibility.
The 83-year-old steam pipe was part of a network used to heat and cool Manhattan buildings. It exploded in an intersection near Grand Central Terminal after water accumulated in a manhole and traps that were supposed to have relieved pressure became clogged by sealant.
Kane was struck down by huge chunks of debris hurled by the blast, then spent seven months in hospitals and nursing homes while doctors worked to save her foot. She had bone infections and seizures, had to hire a health aide to take care of her for months after she finally went home and still needs more surgery.
But the worst part, she said, was when she contracted a bacterial infection in the hospital that gave her “around the clock diarrhea” and terrible abdominal pain for months.
“It is the most humiliating, disgusting thing,” she said of the illness. “Worse than the leg.”