NJ - Power cable burns, shuts Bergenlinegreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
By Journal staff
UNION CITY - Two manhole covers went flying into the air on Bergenline Avenue yesterday following an explosion caused by an underground electric cable fire, police and fire officials said.
The fire, which officials believe was sparked when rock salt eroded a primary Public Service Electric & Gas cable, started shortly before 5 p.m. at 39th Street and Bergenline, where a transformer exploded and a manhole cover was dislodged from the ground.
"It was a big explosion," said Angel Garcia, 72, who said he was inside a building on 38th Street and Kennedy Boulevard at the time of the blast. "I ran outside, but I couldn't see anything. It sounded like a big car accident."
Garcia said that shortly after he heard the explosion, the avenue - a busy thoroughfare and commercial strip - was flooded with police and fire vehicles and personnel.
No one was injured in the three-alarm fire, according to city spokeswoman Gale Kaufman.
"It was amazing no one was hurt," she said. "It was 5 o'clock on a weekday evening - Bergenline Avenue is always jammed."
Union City Police Chief Norman Bareis said officers went to the scene immediately, with their first concern being the area's evacuation. Bergenline was shut to foot and automobile traffic between 32nd and 44th streets, and business owners were told to close their shops, he said.
Minutes after the first manhole cover blew on 39th Street and smoke billowed down the avenue, a second cover burst at 40th Street, said North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Paul Peters.
A few moments later, the utility's secondary wires started burning between 39th and 43rd streets, and a yellowish-brown smoke spewed from an aluminum grate at 33rd Street, where another explosion occurred, said Robert Mahlbacher, electric distribution supervisor for the Palisades division of PSE&G's construction department. No manhole cover dislodged with that blast, officials said.
"Everything was smoking pretty bad," said Deputy Fire Chief Eric Inauen, who likened the smoke to that of a chimney. "Our main concern was evacuating people and making sure the fire did not spread to any of the buildings."
Caused either by the force of the explosion or a piece of a busted manhole cover, the front window and overhead sign at the Corona de Espana Restaurant on 39th and Bergenline was shattered, with glass from the window covering the street.
Overall, private property damage was minimal, though asphalt on Bergenline buckled and cracked.
Fire and PSE&G officials said the explosions caused no gas leaks, and the entire area was checked for basement fires.
Mahlbacher said minor and sporadic outages occurred along the avenue, primarily between 42nd and 43rd streets, where all street lights were out. He expected power to be restored to all customers by midnight.
As a result of the underground cable fire, a separate fire broke out on an overhead power cable on 35th Street and Central Avenue, Mahlbacher said. That fire was contained quickly, but firefighters remained nearby in case it re-ignited.
With the city's main commercial route barricaded, traffic overflowed onto Kennedy Boulevard and the side streets. Traffic didn't come to a complete halt, but moved at a crawl.
Police units from North Bergen, West New York and Hoboken also responded to the scene, Bareis said.
Because PSE&G will need to repair the broken transformer on 39th Street, there will be no parking on Bergenline Avenue tomorrow from 32nd Street to 42nd Street, and only one lane will be open to traffic, Kaufman said. She said drivers are encouraged to take alternate routes.
-- Doris (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 10, 2001