Underground transformer explosion causes fire, power outage

- An underground transformer exploded Monday evening in downtown St. Petersburg, shooting flames and smoke from under the sidewalk and leaving businesses in the dark.

As of Tuesday morning, power was back on, but it was still unclear what caused the explosion. 

"All of a sudden, I heard a boom, bam," recalled witness Daniel Tramontana. "The ground shook, the buildings were shaking."

An underground transformer blew near 3rd Street and Central Avenue, spitting out black and green smoke, which quickly grew into intense orange flames.

"You felt the building shake and heard glass break and all sort of craziness. It was pretty intense there for a while," said Joshua Cameron, Owner of nearby The Oyster Bar and Fortunato's.

VIDEO: Firefighters' close call as transformer explodes

Some fire units attacked the flames while others had to rescue one person stuck in an elevator, due to power being knocked out.

Initially, Duke Energy reported 750 customers without power, but that number was down to 18 within an hour.

"We are working right now on a temporary fix so they can have power as soon as possible while we work on a route cause analysis and a permanent fix to the transformer issue," Duke Energy Florida Spokesperson Suzanne Grant said Monday night.

A similar explosion happened in the same spot Sunday, though business owners say it was not quite as bad.

"This is an unusual event for us and one we take very seriously," Grant said.

The good news is, no one as hurt. But, for businesses, time is money. And, every hour in the dark is painful.

"It's one of those things that could be potentially thousands and thousands of  dollars of lost products and lost business," said Matt Crowley, owner of Crowley's. "If we have to close tomorrow,  I've got to worry about the beer that is all going to be warm and foamy, so it's just everything."

"We missed out on a good eight hours' worth of business trade, which is extremely unfortunate and now we are going to have a lot of spoiled excess product," Cameron said. 

While Duke Energy looks for alternate means of power, nearby businesses with power were opening up their refrigerators to support their neighbors.

"I am very fortunate that the community comes together and, like we are competition one day but in the end, we are all in it together," Cameron said.

"If I have to stay up all night dumping ice, that's what I've got to do," Crowley added.

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