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IPL says downtown explosion caused by short circuit in underground cables

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INDIANAPOLIS (March 19, 2015) – A pair of underground explosions rocked downtown Indianapolis Thursday morning, prompting a large response from emergency crews.

Indianapolis Power & Light officials will meet with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission Friday to discuss the problem as the Circle City gets set to host the Final Four in just a few weeks.

Thursday’s explosion happened at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and North Street. Smoke was seen pouring from manhole covers and at least two manhole covers were sent flying. The initial explosion was reported around 6:45 a.m. while a second followed around 7:30 a.m. IPL said two additional manhole covers were “dislodged.”

The explosion led to power outages in downtown Indianapolis. At one point, the Indianapolis Fire Department said power was out in a 4-6 block radius around Capitol and North.

One person was trapped in an elevator and later rescued after calling 911. Two buildings--a dry cleaner and a building with an apartment and an office--were evacuated. IPL officials said they had isolated the problem by 9 a.m.

During a news conference later Thursday morning, IPL officials said 200 customers remained without power because of “significant damage” to the infrastructure from the explosion.

Joe Bentley, the senior vice president of customer operations at IPL, said the problem was traced to a short circuit in 120-volt cables under the street. He said the utility’s focus was on restoring power to customers who were left without electricity. Bentley said one apartment building in particular was affected by the problem. IPL planned to bring in generators to help restore power to those areas.

Bentley said winter weather may have contributed to the situation.

“We’ve had a lot of snow and definitely snow is a contributor,” Bentley said. “Any contaminants that you have like salt that adds to the water will actually enhance that short circuit from the cables to ground. So we’ve had a lot of snow and that can contribute.”

He said Thursday’s explosions were “completely unrelated” to a problem earlier in the week on Mass Ave.

Bentley told reporters that IPL has installed locking manhole covers enhance safety downtown and continues to install more. He estimated that 600-700 regular manhole covers still need to be replaced.

While Bentley said he “can’t guarantee” that manhole explosions won’t happen during Final Four weekend, he said the system remains “very safe.”

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