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Smoking Electrical Vault Shuts Down Washington Street In Loop

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Clark And Washington

A smoking electrical vault shut down Washington Street at Clark Street Tuesday morning. (Credit: John Dodge/CBS)

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UPDATED 08/23/11 5:40 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Three high-rises in the Loop were still without power Tuesday afternoon, running only on generators after what was a chaotic and smoke-filled day near Washington and Clark streets.

As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, the Fire Department called a Level 1 Hazmat response for the eruption from the manhole on Clark Street, between the City Hall-County Building complex and Daley Plaza.

The smoke began spewing violently out of the manhole around 8:40 a.m.

Washington Street was shut down to traffic and pedestrians between LaSalle and Clark streets, and Clark Street was shut down near the scene, while ComEd crews attended to the matter. All the streets were reopened by mid-afternoon.

What ComEd would only call an “equipment issue” reportedly damaged a pair of air conditioning lines, causing the smoke and knocking out power to two buildings. There was no fire reported, despite all the smoke.

No evacuations were ordered, but pedestrians were asked to stay away so crews could vent the nasty-smelling electrical smoke in the air.

By late morning, ComEd’s problems were increasing. Hundreds of workers were evacuated as a separate issue in almost the very same spot took out power to a half dozen other buildings.

Three buildings remained without power Tuesday afternoon and ComEd was providing generators to those buildings. But ComEd doesn’t expect to have power completely restored until early Wednesday morning.

People who work nearby said they were being impacted by the situation all day. Despite the lack of official evacuations, the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St., ended up closing anyway.

“The air conditioning is off. The water is out. The electricity is on. Some of the elevators are running, so the management has asked people, voluntarily, to evacuate the building and go home, because it’s not going to be possible to get all of those systems up and running,” said the Rev. Phillip Blackwell, pastor of the First United Methodist Church at the temple.

Other office workers also left work due to the problems in the vault Tuesday.

The problems in the vault also cut power to two of four air conditioning lines for the Daley Center courthouse and county office building, and to the entire building at 25 E. Washington St., which houses doctor’s offices and a Bally Total Fitness athletic club.

Crews resolved that issue by 11:30 a.m. before the second outage struck.

The CBS 2 Broadcast Center, a block away at 22 W. Washington St., was on full back-up power through generators. Upstairs from CBS 2, the Morningstar offices were dark.

Power was also cut to the Randolph-Wells Building, an office building at 205 W. Randolph St.; the Goodman Theatre Building at 180 N. Dearborn St.; and the Mentor Building at 6 E. Monroe St., which houses an American Apparel store and condos, the Sun-Times Media Wire reported.

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