A huge plume of smoke billowed into the sky and several buildings were evacuated after a steam pipe exploded in mid-town Manhattan, New York.

Pedestrians were forced to take cover after at least five high-pressure steam pipes hurled chunks of asphalt into the air at 6.40am on Thursday.

The Office of Emergency Management and the FDNY’s Hazmat team rushed to the scene on Fifth Avenue at 21st Street in the Flatiron District, according to the New York Post.

No injuries were reported but Con Edison, which owns the underground pipe, warned anyone who was covered in material following the explosion to bag their clothing and shower immediately as a precaution against possible asbestos.

Steam was still rising around 10 stories high two hours later.

Initial reports said there were no injuries (Casie Jordan)

Emergency services are working to make the area safe. 

WABC reported there also were manhole explosions from West 19th Street to West 21st streets. 

New York City Council speaker Corey Johnson shared a video of the explosion, saying it was "a miracle no one was hurt". 

While one woman on Twitter, named Cassie Jordan, posted footage of clouds of white smoke rising into the sky in the aftermath of the explosion.

She wrote: "Some kind of explosion on Broadway and 21st."

Daniel Lizio-Katzen, 42, who was riding his bike home to the West Village said: "I looked around and saw this big huge plume of steam shoot into the air." 

"It was a pretty violent explosion," Lizio-Katzen told the Daily News. "The steam was shooting up into the air about 70 feet. 

"It was pushing up at such a high pressure that it was spewing all of this dirt and debris.

"The cars around were coated in mud ... It left a huge crater in the middle of the street." 

Emergency services are working to isolate the source of the explosion (Reuters)

Brendan Walsh, 22, a senior at New York University, was heading to a class when he saw the plume. 

"The billows were about six stories high. There was a large scatter of debris," he said. 

"I was standing behind the police line when a Con Ed worker came rushing over and screaming at police and firefighters to push everyone north because he was worried that there could be secondary manhole explosions."

"Everyone - including the police and firefighters who were standing by - started moving back," he said. 

Nearby buildings have been evacuated as a safety precaution (Reuters)

Police are advising people to stay away from the site and surrounding streets have been closed.

New York City Fire Department tweeted: "Members are on the scene of a three-alarm steam explosion, 141 5th Ave Manhattan. 

"Eleven buildings have been evacuated and there are currently no injuries reported."

A spokesman for Con Edison said: "Con Edison crews have been working to isolate the steam rupture that occurred this morning since approximately 6.40am on 5th Avenue and 21st Street in Manhattan.

"Crews are closing valves in the area which will result in the loss of steam service to some buildings.

"People are advised to stay clear of the area for safety reasons.

"Environmental testing is being conducted to determine whether asbestos or other contaminants are present, but as a precaution anyone in the vicinity of the rupture who was covered in material is advised to bag their clothing and shower.

"Con Edison will provide more details as crews make the area safe."

Additional reporting by Associated Press.

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