Underground Electrical Explosions See Omaha Hotel Evacuated

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Multiple explosions and a fire in an underground concrete electrical vault rocked downtown Omaha and forced the evacuation of a nearby hotel, but no injuries were reported.

The incident happened around 8 p.m. Monday when a power transformer that sits under the sidewalk next to the Doubletree Hotel caught fire, authorities said. Explosions from the transformer continued after firefighters arrived, producing a large amount of smoke and flames coming from the sidewalk grates over the vault, Acting Omaha Fire Battalion Chief Mickey McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin told the Omaha World-Herald that the hotel was not damaged because its basement is walled off from the vault. Firefighters had the blaze under control within minutes, and hotel guests were allowed back into their rooms a short time later.

Andrew Lovato-Needham, 18, of Phoenix, said he and his parents were in their eighth-floor room when the first explosion occurred, causing the building to shutter and the lights to flicker.

“We heard an explosion that rocked the building a little bit and we freaked out,” he said. “We looked out the window and saw smoke coming from the sewer vents right below us, and we decided we needed to get out as fast as possible.”

Work crews from Omaha Public Power Utility were on site to make repairs once the fire was out, a spokeswoman for the utility said.