Witnesses describe Richmond transformer explosion

Witnesses describe Richmond transformer explosion
Source: Melissa Wood
Source: Melissa Wood
Source: Ellison Orcutt
Source: Ellison Orcutt

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - When an underground transformer exploded on East Main and 6th streets, people working downtown poured into the street.  The explosion caused other issues, including people getting stuck in elevators and businesses shutting down for they day.

"We heard a loud boom, it kinda rattled the windows and we're on the 19th floor," says Alicia Jones.

"It sounded like something fell on the building," says Danielle Roache.

The explosion happened around 11:20 Friday morning and by noon, the smoke was still visible.

"A couple of manhole covers lifted off as a result of a fire underground on 6th and Main Street, between Franklin and Cary," said Virginia Dominion Power spokesperson Rob Richardson.

Ken Tico's food cart is one block away and was just starting to set up for lunch.

"Then there was a huge boom and shake," says Lindsey Huffer who works at Ken Tico's Food Cart at 7th and East Main Street.  "I thought it was more of an impact than anything, and then 10 minutes later there was another explosion."

Buildings went dark, including state and city offices, Verizon Communications and some VCU downtown offices.  At the Department of Environmental Quality, workers say two people were stuck in an elevator for about 15 minutes and had to be rescued.  Richmond Fire says they rescued people from four elevators that got stuck in different buildings.  It even knocked out power to traffic lights for several blocks.

One Dominion employee was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation and later released. About 400 people were evacuated from nearby buildings, many of them were on the streets trying to figure out what went wrong. One woman  told NBC12  everyone in her building was sent home.

Power was knocked out for the 500 to 800 block of E Main Street for several hours. By 4 p.m., power had been mostly restored, and traffic resumed along those blocks.

Although the exact cause isn't known, Dominion tells NBC12 that explosions and fires like this one can happen when a failed cable burns surrounding insulation, which can release gas and ignite in a confined space.

Now the work begins to replace the damaged 200 to 300-foot cable.

"We're really not going to be able to tell more about the damage until we get down there, where it all happened," Richardson said.

According to Dominion, it doesn't appear that anyone above ground was in any danger and that an explosion like this one is rare.

"I think the reason it's rare is because we inspect these cables very carefully. Safety is one of our course missions and beliefs here at Dominion."

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