Underground explosion injures 2 HECO workers


POSTED: Friday, January 15, 2010

Two Hawaiian Electric Co. employees were injured yesterday by an underground explosion that shook the ground and knocked out power to downtown Honolulu.


The workers were preparing to replace a transformer in an underground vault when the explosion happened at 10:18 a.m., said HECO spokesman Darren Pai. About 1,100 HECO customers lost power.

The vault, which is about 6 to 8 feet deep, is at Fort Street Mall and Pauahi Street on the back side of the building at 1132 Bishop St. The explosion was followed by a small fire, which was put out by two other HECO employees who were standing above the vault, said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Terry Seelig.

Bystanders pulled the injured men out of the vault before firefighters arrived, Seelig said.

City paramedics took one man, said to be in his 40s, to the Queen's Medical Center in serious condition.

The man's condition is improving, Pai said. Paramedics returned to the scene at 10:49 a.m. and took a second man, also in his 40s, to a hospital where he was treated and released, according to Bryan Cheplic, spokesman of the Emergency Services Department. Pai said the second worker suffered minor injuries.

Further details were not available.

Witnesses said they heard a loud explosion and felt the ground shake.

Lorna Tampon, an employee at Vicky's Filipino Fast Food on Fort Street Mall, said she heard a loud boom, as if a large object hit the ground. The smell of electrical smoke followed. “;I knew something was wrong,”; she said.

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Tampon saw a man lying on the ground with black electrical burns to his face and possibly to his hands. Crew members wrapped his hands with some type of cloth. The man was moving and appeared to be conscious, she said.

Vicky's, about 50 feet from the vault, stayed open during the outage, and employees used lanterns as they served customers.

About a dozen HECO workers arrived after the explosion and restored power at 3:15 p.m. Hawaiian Electric is investigating the cause of the explosion.

Seelig described the underground vault as rectangular, about 3 to 4 feet wide and 20 to 30 feet long.