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Manhole Explosion In Elizabeth, New Jersey Sends Cover Flying

ELIZABETH, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- The wet weather on Wednesday caused some alarming moments in Elizabeth, New Jersey, when electrical installations underground began to explode.

As CBS2's Steve Langford reported, cellphone video captured the explosion that sent a manhole cover flying into the air.

With brutal force, the manhole cover was propelled skyward by a powerful explosion in a business district Wednesday in Elizabeth, as underground electrical wires once again proved to be an incendiary mix with salt and rain and snow.

The dangerous conditions in the manhole sparked one blast after the other mid-morning near Elizabeth Avenue and 7th Street.

"The explosion looked like it's the flames, they come. The flames maybe about maybe 6-foot high and they start to smoke – a lot of smoke," said witness Carlos Aviles.

The call first came in at 10:10 a.m. after the manhole exploded. Just as fire units were pulling up, the manhole cover blasted into the air.

"I stepped out of the vehicle and a manhole, probably 20, 25 feet away, shot right up in the air," said Elizabeth Deputy Fire Chief Lathey Wirkus. "It was a massive explosion."

First responders cleared people away quickly and evacuated some 20 buildings, because of the real danger of getting killed by one of the manhole covers.

"We had a serious potential due to the manhole covers that were lifting off," Wirkus said.

What's more, carbon monoxide was detected – forcing the urgent ventilation of many basements. Emergency utility workers were out in force, scrambling to ensure safety, make repairs and get the power back on.

Local businesses suffered.

"It's slow," one business operator said. "You see, it's slow right now."

Mercifully, no pedestrians or drivers were at or near the manhole covers when they detonated with such frightening force.

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