Two power outages still reported Friday after underground explosions downtown Thursday morning

Several underground explosions hit downtown Indianapolis Thursday morning, knocking out power, crippling the morning commute and forcing nearby businesses to close.

IPL said the underground explosions could continue to be a problem into the weekend and that could leave some buildings without power for days as crews continue to try and fix the problem - all things no one wants to see just before the NCAA Final Four when tens of thousands of basketball fans return to Indianapolis.

By 9 a.m. Friday, all but two customers were still without power — a tire store and a coffee shop. Several customers were also still on an IPL back up generator.

An IPL spokesperson said the utility's goal is to have all power restored by the end of the day Friday. 

The incident began around 6:45 a.m. Thursday with reports of smoke coming out of manholes near Capitol and North streets. While WTHR's Matt McCutcheon was reporting from that same intersection on Eyewitness News Sunrise, an explosion happened LIVE on the air behind him. Matt got to the scene shortly before 7:00 a.m., and tweeted, "I personally just heard a series of pops and saw a spark and now heavy smoke above this smoldering manhole."

Many others saw or heard the same thing.

"I was actually asleep when I heard the explosion," said one resident.

"I was just standing on the corner right there and that last one that blew up went as high as the street light," added witness Whitfield Cooper.

By 9:00 a.m., crews had counted four manhole covers that had exploded. The power went out over a 12 block area with rush-hour traffic rerouted, and nearby businesses and apartments evacuated.

"About 8:00 this morning, when I first came to the office and opened up the door, tons of smoke just billowed out and then a fireman quickly came over," said Gary Pino with IDO Commercial Interior Design.

"Just done for safety," said maintenance supervisor Tony Laroche. "They did a thermal check and there weren't any hot spots or anything."

There were some concerns about air quality, though, according to Pino, namely carbon monoxide.

"He said the initial reading was 46 and if it got up to 50, it could be fatal," Pino told Eyewitness News.

Without power to run fans, firefighters had to simply open doors and let nature do the work.

Meanwhile, IPL crews worked to isolate the problem and restore power to some 400 customers.

"We do have significant damage to some electrical infrastructure along Capitol north to Michigan," confirmed Joe Bentley, IPL senior vice president.

IPL officials said several underground electrical lines shorted and caught fire with the built up carbon monoxide causing the manhole covers to blow off. While IPL still doesn't know why it all happened, officials said it had nothing to do with a similar incident Monday on Mass Ave.

"I was the first one on scene at Mass Ave. - the two items are completely unrelated," according to Bentley.

The goal now is to prevent it from happening a third time this month.

"What is important to know is that whether it is any big event, like the Super Bowl or NCAA, our plans have been in place for weeks and we have been working with members of the NCAA and the (Indiana) Sports Corporation to ensure safety," said Brandi Davis-Handy with IPL. "That is part of our routine maintenance when there is a big event coming, so for weeks, we have already scheduled additional inspection around that location and we already have extra crews staffed to work that weekend."

IPL said a short underground caused a build-up of carbon monoxide, which became combustible, causing the explosion. The utility company will meet with regulators on Friday.

By early afternoon, power had been restored to roughly 200 customers but traffic lights were still out and so were the lights at an apartment building and several nearby businesses, like AJ's Lounge.

Usually a spot for good music and even better conversation, the only thing dancing at AJ's Thursday was the candlelight.

"It's very dark and there are no customers, so hopefully they're working very hard and we'll get the lights back on very soon," said owner Gwen Robinson.

"I don't want to get a cab cause all the lights are out and I'm going to have to walk," said Jack Hustava, who lives at the Axis, an apartment building at Michigan and Capital.

Everywhere Hustava wanted to grab dinner, though, was closed with same problem - no power. Hungry customers were greeted with closed doors and lights off inside at Acapulco Joe's.

"The police and IPL's been on it for over 12 hours now and police are doing a good job with traffic," said Hustava.

Two vehicles crashed Thursday morning at Meridian and St. Clair due to the outage cutting out power to traffic lights, with an SUV striking a light pole. Neither driver was injured, but the crash highlighted the challenges with so many cars moving through the area during the morning rush hour, with no clear direction.

"I could see the vehicle stopped in that lane, but then I couldn't see the traffic in the other lane. They came to a complete stop, I went and that vehicle didn't and she was going full speed," said Mike Popielski.

Traffic backed up as it creeped through downtown streets, with traffic officers working the major intersections to help things move more smoothly.

Police remind drivers anytime you come to an intersection where the signal lights aren't working, treat it like a four-way stop.

Meanwhile, one person was stuck on an elevator when the power first went out and had to be rescued by firefighters, but no injuries were reported.

For now, IFD is asking people to avoid the area and to not walk near manhole covers.

IPL will meet with state regulators Friday morning. An official with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission told Eyewitness News it would be the first time the commission had ever held an emergency conference. According to the official, the commission is very concerned with the frequency of the explosions.


Again, Matt McCutcheon first arrived on the scene around 7:00 a.m., and tweeted, "I personally just heard a series of pops and saw a spark and now heavy smoke above this smoldering manhole."

He then tweeted this photo, showing traffic backing up on Capitol.

One minute later, Matt tweeted, "Just heard another boom."

Firefighters tell him that manhole covers close by should be considered dangerous, weighing nearly 100 pounds.

He tweeted this photo around 7:20 a.m., saying, "As smoke continues to billow, we've been pushed back for fear of exploding man hole covers."

During Matt's 7:27 a.m. report, another manhole exploded behind him.

This is the manhole cover that exploded near Matt.