An explosion in an underground electrical vault rocked downtown Long Beach high-rises Wednesday and shattered windows in nearby buildings.
The force of the blast tossed four three-quarter-ton concrete vault covers about 20 feet as a six-foot flash of fire erupted from the sidewalk along East Ocean Boulevard in front of City Hall, according to witnesses and Long Beach fire officials.
One woman was shaken by the 5:17 p.m. blast as she was about to enter her car a few feet from the vault, fire officials said. Suanne Swan, 45, of Long Beach was treated at St. Mary Medical Center and released, a spokesman said.
"We were lucky," said Police Lt. Robert Kalowes. "Serious damage could have occurred if a car had gone down the street at the time" of the blast.
Trapped in Elevator
Two people were trapped in a City Hall elevator for about two hours before they were freed by firefighters.
The explosion briefly interrupted power to City Hall, which had closed for the day, and cut off telephone service at police headquarters. Emergency communications were not disturbed, Kalowes said.
A Southern California Edison Co. manager said a faulty electrical switch resulted in a short-circuit, possibly caused by seepage of rain, that sparked the explosion.
"We had a switch that apparently didn't open," explained Don W. Bailey, Long Beach coastal area manager with Edison. "It caused the current to flow, which increases the current, which increases the power, but it had nowhere to go but up (through the sidewalk)."
Repair Work Planned
A crew planned to work through the night and the rain to replace the switch and restore power to City Hall, 333 E. Ocean Blvd., the only building receiving power from the electrical vault, he said.
The explosion blew out dozens of windows at the Blackstone Hotel and the Sovereign Apartments, two residential hotels across the street, as well as at City Hall.
"It jarred our whole building," said Charles Williams, a maintenance man for the 12-story Sovereign Apartments.
Ron Brown, a desk clerk at the Blackstone, was standing by a large window when the explosion sent glass shattering into the lobby and knocked screens off the windows.
'Just Blew Up'
"I was knocked to the ground and I'm real shook up," Brown said. "The window just blew up."
Dennis Foxworth said the six-foot fireball he saw from the lobby of the Blackstone reminded him of his two-year tour as an Army Green Beret during the Vietnam War.
"I just saw a flash of light and I saw a piece of concrete fly up into the air about 10 feet," Foxworth said. "That's a helluva explosion. I thought it was an artillery shell. . . ."
Lonnie Binderman of Long Beach said the blast slammed flecks of concrete into the side of his pickup truck and tore off the inside rear-view mirror as he drove west a few feet from the sidewalk where the blast occurred.
"It shook the truck," Binderman said. "When it went, I ducked."