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Published: Monday, 12/29/2008

Underground explosion rocks Savannah s downtown


SAVANNAH, Ga. An explosion in underground electrical cables blew off manhole covers and started several fires in downtown Savannah on Monday morning, prompting police to evacuate several stores and restaurants, many of which were without power. No injuries were immediately reported, police said.

Police received calls around 8:49 a.m. reporting that manhole covers had been blown off at the an intersection in the heart of the downtown district, said department spokesman Gene Harley. About an hour later, firefighters had put out three separate fires where the covers blew off.

I didn t see it happen, but I heard an explosion and then black smoke started billowing out of the ground from the manhole covers, said city spokesman Bret Bell, who was a block away at City Hall.

It would likely be evening before the utility s crews could get underground to begin investigating what happened, said Georgia Power spokeswoman Swann Seiler.

Police evacuated shoppers and pedestrians after the explosion but allowed business owners and employees to stay behind to secure their shops. Harley said City Hall employees were sent home for the day and authorities were encouraging businesses to do the same.

Power was out in a large section of downtown, Harley said, and extra police were brought in to help direct traffic away from the area. Seiler said some customers would not have power until morning.

The affected area includes River Street, the site of many of Savannah s tourist attractions, shops and restaurants.

We are very fortunate that, in this high traffic area, with three manhole covers coming up, there were no injuries and relatively no property damage, Seiler said, adding that the only damage immediately noticeable above ground was several broken windows.

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