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Small blasts hit University of Oregon power system

Jan 7, 2013


By JONATHAN J. COOPER
Of the Associated Press

EUGENE — A series of explosions hit an underground utility system Monday at the University of Oregon, plunging several buildings into darkness as crews scrambled to restore power.

Nobody was hurt, but the blasts created headaches for hundreds of students and staff as they returned for the first day of classes after winter break. The student health center was closed, and about eight buildings — many of them residence halls — remains dark hours after the blasts. A slight smell of burning rubber lingered in some areas.

Officials said the explosions appeared to be related to the campus electrical supply, but they were still trying to pinpoint the cause. There was no estimate for when power would be restored.

The blasts were audible above the ground and from several hundred feet away. A video clip from the campus showed puffs of smoke coming from a manhole cover.

In a dormitory near the blast, pitch-black stairwells became obstacles for students trying to get to class, said Camila Rowland, a freshman majoring in psychology.

“We're using flashlights now,” she said. Some cafeterias were closed, Rowland added, so those with power were unusually packed with students. And officials told students to try to limit their use of bathroom facilities.

Starting around 10 a.m., about five blasts issued from the tunnel system where power to university buildings is distributed, followed by a series of explosions over a half hour, said campus police spokesman Kelly McIver.

When the blasts started, two electrical workers were nearby in the tunnel system, but it's unknown whether they had anything to do with the explosions, McIver said.

“They exited the tunnel quickly and were not hurt,” he said.

Law student Patrice Bishop-Foster said she was listening to music and heard a popping noise, and it took a few seconds to register that the noise wasn't part of the song. The flights flickered in the gym, she said.

The university has about 24,600 students.

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