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Albany City And National Grid Officials Give Update After Underground Fire Blows Manhole Covers Off

 Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Albany Fire Chief Joseph Gregory, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins, and National Grid officials update reporters regarding an  underground transformer fire.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Albany Fire Chief Joseph Gregory, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins, and National Grid officials update reporters regarding an underground transformer fire.

A pair of explosions in downtown Albany early this morning blew off manhole covers, shattered windows and rattled residents near the intersection of Henry Johnson Boulevard and State Street.

According to National Grid, two manhole covers were blown off overnight after an underground transformer fire in Albany. Mayor Kathy Sheehan says residents of several buildings were evacuated due to carbon monoxide and smoke concerns.   "The largest building being 399 State Street which is on the basically east corner of Henry Johnson Boulevard and State Street. That is a 66-unit building. The residents of that building were evacuated for roughly two hours."

The residents had to leave again after that building lost power. Service has since been restored.   "We know that of those buildings we have a total of eight structures. One of those structures is vacant, one of those is property that is owned by the State University."

Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins says residents were quite alarmed and flooded the police switchboard with calls.  "From the police perspective we were dealing with a lot of traffic-related issues and you know making sure that we helped with fire department and National Grid with road closures and also doing a canvass of the buildings that were evacuated to make sure that property was preserved and that we didn't have folks who were going in and potentially taking advantage of the situation."

National Grid’s Peter Altenburger  says electrical arcing caused the fire.  Repairs near the intersection could take up to 24 hours. Some customers will be without power for an undetermined amount of time.  "We're starting from State Street and working our way toward Washington Park. So we already got the Ten Broeck building back up and we'll just keep working. Customers will be out for an extended period closer to Washington Park. We've hired an electrical contractor to go in and start installing generators at those homes."

Albany fire officials say concussion from the blast blew out windows in buildings and damaged two cars parked in the vicinity.

Sheehan says no one is certain exactly what happened underground and what other infrastructure may have been compromised.   "Our water department is going in and scoping its lines to ensure that there was no damage to the pipe."

State Street from Sprague Place to Willett Street was closed to all traffic. Henry Johnson Boulevard from Washington Avenue to Washington Park was also closed.  

Officials say motorists should avoid the area. They concede crews will be in the neighborhood "for quite some time."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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