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Baltimore firefighters, BGE respond to 'manhole incident' in Mount Vernon

The Baltimore Sun

A men’s clothing store in Mt. Vernon was damaged, several neighbors lost power and others reported hearing and feeling an “explosion” after officials said a “manhole incident” occurred in Baltimore Tuesday afternoon.

Firefighters received the call around 11:50 a.m. about smoke coming from a manhole near East Hamilton and North Lovegrove streets, just off Charles Street.

Several bystanders described the event as sounding like an “explosion” but officials repeatedly denied that, referring to it only as an “incident.”

The incident stemmed from an underground electrical issue, BGE spokesman Nick Alexopulous said. There were no reports of injuries, Alexopulos added, but there were about 10 people left without power.

As damage occurs to electrical cables underground, gases can build up, Alexopulous said. Sometimes with the build up of the gases mixing with air, the pressure releases through the manhole. Alexopulous described such incidents as “rare” but said they do happen “a handful of times a year.” The cause for the damaged cables in this event is still under investigation.

BGE crews were on scene most of the afternoon evaluating the damage to the underground lines, boarding up windows and helping clean up glass from broken windows nearby. The block was closed off until about 3 p.m. when police tape was taken down. Two hours later, BGE crews began to run new underground lines, Alexopulos said.

Marc Sklar was at the front of his men’s clothing store, Gian Marco Menswear, when he felt the ground shake and thought he “heard a bomb go off.”

He thought to himself “this isn’t good” and, after grabbing his 80-year-old tailor who was in the back of the store, Sklar ran outside. That’s when he saw the manhole smoking and smelled what he thought was gas burning.

BGE later told Sklar it wasn’t gas but electric lines that were burning, he said.

Seven windows in his store were blown out, some as much as 10 feet from the manhole, Sklar said.

Sklar, who’s owned the Charles Street store for almost 30 years, closed it for the remainder of today but plans to reopen as usual Wednesday.

“I’m just incredibly glad nobody was hurt,” Sklar said. “As cliché as it sounds, windows can be put back in, but people’s lives can’t.”

Christina Danaher, who lives nearby on Charles Street, described the incident as “an explosion.”

“We heard an enormous boom and felt the building shake,” she said via text. “At first we thought a truck crashed into the building. When we ran outside, we saw smoke coming from a manhole, and broken glass from the shattered windows. Only one fire truck showed up, then it took the police another 15 or so minutes to arrive, so we all figured it wasn't too serious.”

Nick Scholl, a member of the Mt. Vernon Neighbors Facebook group, said, “I heard and felt it, and it wasn't subtle. Louder than a sonic boom and more physical. I also thought the bomb thing; I was staring out the window, waiting for the oncoming flash to incinerate me.”

moxenden@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mack_oxenden

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