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Underground fire causes South Bend outage

SOUTH BEND – An underground electrical fire left hundreds of homes and businesses in downtown South Bend without power Friday while thousands of people are in town for the University of Notre Dame’s weekend commencement ceremonies.

Indiana Michigan Power spokesman Mark Robinson said Friday morning the utility cut power to downtown South Bend as a precaution after the fire late Thursday seriously damaged power circuits in underground vaults that house part of the city’s electrical grid.

Robinson said crews from Fort Wayne and Columbus, Ohio, had been dispatched to South Bend to help local crews, but power isn’t expected to be restored to the area until Sunday evening.

“They’re still working on the cause; however, it does appear there was extensive damage,” he told the South Bend Tribune ( ), which was unable to publish Friday’s newspaper after the power outage idled its printing presses.

As of Friday morning, the utility said that about 820 of its South Bend customers remained without power.

Police had erected stop signs throughout the northern Indiana city’s downtown after traffic signals went dark.

Kara Kelly, spokeswoman for Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s office, said the outage has closed South Bend’s City-County building, Building Department, South Bend Water Works and the St. Joseph County Courthouse through Saturday.

Deputy Mayor Mark Neal said the outage is expected to last for much of the weekend and will likely affect commencement ceremonies at the University of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College.

“There is never a good time for something like this to happen, and with so many people visiting this weekend for Notre Dame and St. Mary’s graduations, the inconvenience and economic impact will be especially unfortunate,” he said.

South Bend Memorial Hospital, which was among the affected businesses, was getting power from its generators. The hospital was diverting ambulances to other hospitals, but had not evacuated patients and staff continued treating emergency room patients.

Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Maggie Scroope said the outage had not affected patient care at the downtown hospital, although the hospital’s medical offices were closed Friday, as was the Day Road cancer center.

“Patient care at the hospital isn’t being affected, that’s the most important thing,” she said. “Our staff is asked to report as they are scheduled.”