DTE: Underground cable failure led to hotel evacuation

Mark Hicks, and Robert Snell

Detroit — DTE Energy blamed an equipment failure for reports of an underground explosion that forced the evacuation of hundreds of guests early Thursday at The Westin Book Cadillac in downtown Detroit.

DTE traced the 12:30 a.m. incident to an apparent failure of an underground high-voltage cable that is part of the DTE electrical system near Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue.

“Crews have been working since early this morning at the site of a suspected underground power cable failure in downtown Detroit,” DTE Energy spokesman John Austerberry said in a late Thursday morning email. “The immediate vicinity of the incident is safe and secure as crews prepare to conduct inspections of underground electrical equipment in the area.

“Safety of our workers and the public is our highest priority and crews will remain on the scene until the long-term safety of the site is assured.”

There were no power outages as a result of the incident, according to the company.

“When underground high-voltage cables fail, they release energy into a confined space. That typically causes an explosive noise. That’s why we are focused on inspecting the underground electrical equipment in the area,” Austerberry said. “The network power system in downtown Detroit is designed with redundant capabilities so a cable failure may not cause power outages.”

The Detroit People Mover suspended service early Thursday morning so engineers could examine the structure for damage related to the overnight incident, according to officials. It was set to reopen by 11 a.m. Thursday.

After reports of a loud explosion early Thursday, Detroit police blocked off the hotel entrance at Washington Boulevard and Michigan. Hundreds of guests poured out of the building and across the street, many with their luggage

“I would just rather be in my bed asleep,” said one woman wearing a robe.

At least one guest reported hearing blasts from the 13th floor. “It was really loud,” she said.

One observer called the sound of tremendous blasts similar to that of fireworks mortar.

“It was unbelievably loud. Never heard anything that loud outside of fireworks,” said Brad Hales. Hales was outside of Cliff Bell’s, a bar on Park Avenue, just north Grand Circus Park several blocks away.

Bernard Friedman of California, who was staying on the 18th floor with his wife and two sons, likened the reverberations to a kettle drum. Then, he said, “we looked outside and saw people running.”

Staff writer Holly Fournier contributed