SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 8, 2014

Manhole covers blow off in Salem

Teams search for cause of underground explosion

by Terri Ogan
Staff Writer

---- — SALEM — A failed transformer may have caused an underground explosion in the area of Essex Street yesterday, blowing the covers off three manholes along Lafayette Street and causing at least 300 customers in the area to lose power, a spokesperson from National Grid said.

According to officials, no one was injured.

Jake Navarro, a National Grid spokesperson, said the damaged transformer will need to be replaced, and customers will have their power back soon.

The explosion occurred around 3 p.m. yesterday at the intersection of Central Street and Front Street.

Although there were no injuries, a Salem police officer said one car sustained minimal damage to its front bumper because it was parked over one of the manholes that exploded.

Teams from the Salem police and fire departments and National Grid were on site to determine the cause of the explosion, and they evacuated several people in the area after officials detected carbon monoxide leaks in buildings surrounding the blast site.

“We got here and started checking the basements and found high levels of carbon monoxide on Front Street and in Red’s Sandwich Shop,” said Salem Deputy fire Chief Bill Francis. “We had to evacuate those buildings.”

Francis added that power loss was fairly widespread, and about 150 people “had to get out” because of power outages and carbon monoxide.

Ann Massey, owner of Rouge Cosmetics on Derby Street, said she heard the explosion.

“When we heard it, it was like a car backfired,” Massey said. “We didn’t lose power. We were just in here doing makeup and having a good old time.”

Massey added that the building she works in, which consists of about six businesses and several condominiums, was not affected by the blast.

Francis said the area is safe now, and the main priority is restoring power and fixing the problem.

“It’s just going to be a matter of when they give us the all clear that we can vent the basements and let the people back in,” Francis said. “But they’re going to be without power for a while, so maybe the biggest concern is no heat for the night and some of these places having frozen pipes and stuff like that. That could be a big concern.”

The manhole covers have been put back in place, and teams are working to determine the exact cause.

Terri Ogan can be reached at togan@salemnews.com.