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Boston Manhole Fire Causes Two-Hour Power Cut

August 23, 1988

BOSTON (AP) _ Power was cut to several downtown blocks for about two hours today when a crew searching for an underground gas leak started an electrical fire, forcing evacuations of at least one office tower and stalling commuters.

A Boston Edison Co. spokesman said 12,500 residential and commercial customers were affected. Scores of commuters on one subway line had to be escorted through a darkened tunnel when their trains stopped; intersections were snarled when traffic lights went blank.

Power was restored to all but about 23 buildings along fashionable Newbury Street, near the spot where the fire broke out. They were expected to be without power ″for much of the daylight time,″ said Edison spokesman Walter Salvi.

″At least I wasn’t in the elevator,″ said Mary Kercz, one of about 100 people evacuated from the Boston Public Library.

There were reports that several people were briefly trapped in elevators at the nearby 52-story Prudential office tower.

Another Edison spokesman, Dan Delurey, said the power was cut to fight the manhole fire, reportedly set off by a repair crew that cut Edison cables while digging for a gas leak.

The affected area included parts of the city’s central shopping areas and several major hotels. The Massachusetts Turnpike tunnel under downtown Copley Square went dark, forcing drivers to switch on their headlights and slow down when entering.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority used buses to ferry passengers among the three affected subway stations.

A foam-spraying truck from Logan International Airport was called to the fire, which took abouut 35 minutes to extinguish.

At the Neiman-Marcus specialty store in the posh Copley Place shopping mall, a back-up generator and a skylight kept the store bright. But, without power, the cash registers were still.

The blackout cut power to the Westin Hotel at Copley Place, but emergency generators kept lights on in public areas and sent all elevators to the ground floor, said hotel spokeswoman Susan Mooncai.

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