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Associated Press
Downtown South Bend remains dark Friday after an underground electrical fire late Thursday left homes and businesses without power.

Blackout cloaks downtown South Bend

– An underground electrical fire left about 800 homes and businesses in downtown South Bend without power Friday as thousands of people are in town for the University of Notre Dame’s weekend commencement ceremonies.

Indiana Michigan Power spokesman Mark Robinson said 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 come to help.

I&M President Paul Chodak said power was expected to be restored by noon Sunday, possibly earlier.

Deputy Mayor Mark Neal said most of the businesses downtown that are normally open at night were expected to be open Friday night, saying a number of them had brought in generators. He also said temporary streetlights were put up in some places and that additional police patrols would be out.

“We’re confident we’ll be able to have a vibrant downtown just as you would on any Friday night, other than some cool weather,” he said.

The Notre Dame campus, about 2 miles north of downtown, was not affected by the outage and was not planning changes to weekend commencement events. But the school urged students to alert their families and other guests about the situation so they could check with hotels and restaurants to ensure those establishments remain open.

The city and Downtown South Bend Inc. brought in two large generators from Indianapolis to help power the city’s Century Center, the DoubleTree hotel and other downtown businesses, according to Scott Ford, South Bend’s executive director of community investment.

The South Bend Tribune was not able to publish Friday’s newspaper in time for morning delivery after the power outage idled its printing presses.

Aaron Perri, executive director of Downtown South Bend, said residents and businesses were pulling together.

“Certainly, everyone is disappointed we have to go through this,” he said. “I’m pleased to report that spirits are high and downtown is open for business.”

He said several proms and other major events downtown would go on as planned.