Local News

Duke Energy: High-voltage cables touched, caused Durham manhole explosions

Posted July 13, 2016 5:22 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2016 7:00 p.m. EDT

— A pair of underground explosions rocked downtown Durham Tuesday night and tossed manhole covers from the street, which caused some minor damage to a building, officials said.

Durham police received a call around 10 p.m. for smoke coming from manhole covers around 201 Chapel Hill St. in the area of the Marriott hotel. Officers set up a perimeter around the covers where they saw heavy smoke.

One of the explosions caused a manhole cover damage the old Durham Herald Sun building. A second explosions happened, but it's unclear if it caused any more damage.

"When I got out the car, we heard an explosion, and we were like, 'What's going on?'" said Malcolm Boyd, who was driving near the scene. "And we heard a second explosion, and police started running away from the explosion."

Melissa Randall, who works at a restaurant nearby, said emergency crews came wailing past the building.

"I had one customer ask me if everything was ok downtown because there was an array of sirens," Randall said.

Meredith Archie, a Duke Energy spokesperson, said the problem was caused by high-voltage power cables that touched and shorted out, causing a flash and the explosion, though the company is still working to figure out why that happened.

"Safety is our number one priority," Archie said. "We never want to compromise the safety of our customers.

Randall said while no one was injured, the blasts are frightening to those who frequent the downtown area.

"That's kind of scary to think that something could happen to myself or someone I know walking downtown," she said.

Officials said they could install new locking manhole covers to prevent another incident in the future.

Police closed several roads after the explosions, which could remain closed for at least a day. The roads closed are:

» W. Main and Market streets

» Five Points

» Corocaran and W. Parrish streets

» E. Chapel Hill and Foster streets