NEW YORK (AP) – They bombarded 911 with calls, crowded the sidewalks in front of evacuated buildings and tuned to the news for word of what was happening. The question on the minds of many New Yorkers yesterday morning was: “What’s that smell?”

A natural gas-like odor hung over much of Manhattan and parts of New Jersey, confounding authorities. The smell seemed to be gone by early afternoon.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was no indication the air was unsafe. “It may just be an unpleasant smell,” he said. He said sensors did not show an unusually high concentration of natural gas, and the city’s major utility company reported it found no gas leaks.

The mayor said the smell may have been caused by a leak of a substance called mercaptan that is added to natural gas for safety reasons to give it a recognizable odor. By itself, natural gas is odorless.

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