What caused 'network protector' to fail, causing underground blasts in downtown Indianapolis?

INDIANAPOLIS - Underground explosions in downtown Indianapolis prompted evacuations on Wednesday afternoon.

Indianapolis Power & Light Company said the underground explosions were caused by a "network protector" that failed near Meridian and Maryland streets around 1:30 p.m.

No injuries or property damage were reported. Crews were working to determine what caused the network protector to fail. That finding may not come until Thursday.

IPL said despite the incident, the downtown network is safe.

"No system is without failure and these things happen. I think when you look back on the last five years, these incidents don't occur as often as people think. When it does happen, and especially in a location like Meridian during lunch time, it is a big deal. We take this seriously, but we have invested and will continue to invest the resources and time to make sure this is a safe network," IPL spokeswoman Brandi Davis-Handy said.

Indianapolis Fire Department Capt. Rita Reith said the explosions shook windows and shut down traffic in both directions for several hours. Diners in nearby restaurants and employees working in nearby businesses were evacuated. 

Reith says police quickly moved and evacuated workers and onlookers to a safe distance away. She says Mayor Greg Ballard and Public Safety Director Troy Riggs went to the scene for briefings from firefighters and IPL.

The Oceanaire, Napolese and Carson Pirie Scott were all closed Wednesday evening. The power was cut off to all three businesses while crews worked to fix the problem.

Power was restored to the three businesses later Wednesday night and all court offices on Meridian Street were scheduled to be open Thursday.

Several 2011 downtown manhole explosions brought IPL under scrutiny by state regulators. Reith says Wednesday's explosions did not displace any manhole covers.

The Call 6 Investigators were looking into the issue of underground explosions since there have been more than a dozen incidents since 2005.

Following state hearings in 2012, IPL has taken aggressive steps to make repairs and improve inspections.

Wednesday's incident was the second underground explosion in 2014. The first happened in March on East Market Street near Pennsylvania Street.

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