Two manholes exploded during the morning rush hour Thursday, forcing the evacuation of two office buildings in downtown Boston and sending one woman to the hospital with burns, authorities said.
The explosions happened around 8:40 a.m. in the Financial District, causing a smoky, chaotic scene that sent pedestrians scrambling for safety. Ashley Ventrillo, who works for a law firm at 175 Federal St., said the explosions “sounded like a bomb.”
“It was just terrifying because we didn’t know what was going on at the moment,” said Ventrillo, 25, who lives in East Boston. “When people started running, I started running because I was like, ‘I’m just gonna do what everybody else is doing.’ ”
The blasts shattered a window on a High Street building, officials said.
Boston Deputy Fire Chief Brian Tully said he arrived at the scene to find “glass on the sidewalk and heavy smoke venting through the manhole cover.”
One cover was “several feet from the actual manhole,” he said. “Pressure lifted it up and it was tossed,” he said.
The injured woman may have suffered a steam burn, officials said. Her injuries were not life-threatening, they said.
Tully said utility crews were checking for any natural gas issues resulting from the explosions, which prompted the evacuations of buildings at 175 Federal St. and 10 High St. The buildings had elevated levels of carbon monoxide, a likely result of the explosions, he said.
“It’s been hot lately, so we’ve been using a lot of power around the city,” Tully said. “When we use a ton of electricity and power, the equipment’s just being overused, overtaxed, and once in a while something breaks.”
Inside 175 Federal St., attorney Carmen Durso said he was preparing for a press conference when he saw lightning strike between High and Federal streets.
“It was clearly a lightning strike,” said Durso, a well-known lawyer who represents sex abuse victims in civil proceedings. “And to see one between the buildings was just astounding. You would expect it to hit the buildings, but it very clearly came down there … it was an immediate bang from the lightning and then the explosion.”
The manholes belonged to the utility Eversource. A company spokesman, William Hinkle, said the cause of the explosions is under investigation, but said it was “not in any way related to overloading of the electric system, and we have not received any indication that lightning was involved.”
“Our team continues to work with local officials and other utilities conducting an investigation into the specific cause and other details,” he said. Hinkle said the company will share its conclusions with the Department of Public Utilities.
No Eversource employees were working there at the time, he said.
Mayor Michelle Wu said Thursday afternoon that “the utility company is still getting to the bottom of exactly what happened.”
“We will ensure there’s accountability if there’s a larger systemic issue,” she said. “This is a frightening incident to happen just in the middle of the day with a very, very busy area.”
Matt Kilmain, who works for Local 550, was awaiting a hoist on the 42nd floor of a building on Winter Street to fit pipes for a sprinkler system when he heard the blasts.
“I just heard chaos,” said Kilmain, 26, who lives in Abington. He saw smoke, people running, and an injured woman on a stretcher.
Ari Manakos, 30, works at 155 Federal St. and felt the building rumble. At first, he thought it was the elevator, but then he heard the second explosion.
”It’s freaky,” he said. “No one wants to think about the concept of explosions happening.”
C.J. Certo, 29, was working at his computer at 155 Federal St. when he heard a “deep, really loud explosion.” The building shook and he heard a scream. He immediately fled the building.
”The boom and the scream were enough to get out of there,” Certo said. It smelled like ”chemical meets fear in the air.”
Traffic Advisory: Boston Police and Boston Fire are on scene at Federal Street on a report of man hole fires. Street closures are in effect. Pedestrian and Vehicular traffic will be impacted.— Boston Police Dept. (@bostonpolice) June 2, 2022
Jennifer Peter and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Alexander Thompson contributed to this story.
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Matt Yan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @matt_yan12. Tonya Alanez can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.