Underground explosion near Pfister Hotel leads to investigation, hotels adjusting

CREATED Feb 10, 2013 - UPDATED: Feb 11, 2013

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  • Video by wtmj.com

  • Video by wtmj.com

  • Video by wtmj.com


MILWAUKEE - Crews spent Monday investigating an explosion that happened in front of the historic Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee.
The underground blast created a 15-foot hole in the ground.
Crews were working underground near the corner of North Milwaukee and East Mason Streets on Monday.
Streets were blocked off in that area.  The nearby Hotel Metro still did not have power as of 5:00 a.m. Monday.
The incident knocked out power to more than 500 We Energies customers, including Hotel Metro.
Some guests there had to be moved.
"A couple down to the A-Loft...we worked with Milwaukee Athletic Club...we've worked with the Pfister," said Kris Willis of Hotel Metro.
Hotel Metro lost most of its food.
"Yes, we've lost quite a big that we're now working our food purveyor, and they're bringing down a truck," explained Metro GM Kris Willis.
People spending their Sunday night at the Pfister might have gotten more than they bargained for.
This all started at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday night with reports of heavy black smoke coming from a manhole cover near the Pfister Hotel.
A short time after crews arrived, they said a "massive release of energy" happened. That's basically an explosion underground.
"We were just sitting, watching a movie, and heard a huge explosion," said Patricia Purtell, who was staying at the hotel, to TODAY'S TMJ4's Nick Montes.
"I'm up on the 8th floor, and it shook the room.  You could see the window move."
She said hotel guests were very concerned as they watched police and firefighters from the lobby.
"A lot of people were very confused because we could not leave the building."
Officials think it was a faulty electrical cable that started a fire.
As that burned, at least two manhole covers blew and caused the concrete to buckle.
TODAY'S TMJ4 spoke by phone with a woman while she was stuck on the 7th floor of the Pfister Hotel. She says she also heard the explosion.
"People were starting to exit and leave and I was standing in the middle of the floor and then just at once, heard a huge bang and the floor completely shook," Tammy Flynn says.
Flynn says hotel personnel brought guests TVs and food to keep them occupied while the exits were closed for a short period of time.
"We were wondering what was going on," Flynn says.
"We got all different information from guests trying to leave, but they stopped them from leaving for their safety. On the main level, kind of set up a nice area for everybody to eat and relax. They brought up two big screen TVs while everybody waited for that clearance to happen."
No one was seriously hurt.
We're told one woman skinned her knee when she dove as one of the manhole covers blew.
At one point, about 550 customers in the immediate area were without power.
Crews were working to restore everyone's power as quickly as possible and clear any threat from underground.