- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - 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, were helping local crews. I&M; President Paul Chodak said power was expected to be restored by noon Sunday, possibly earlier. He apologized for the inconvenience.

“I know this is a particularly difficult weekend for this to occur,” he said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

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 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, Scott Ford, South Bend’s executive director of community investment, told the South Bend Tribune, which wasn’t able to publish Friday’s newspaper in time for morning delivery after the power outage idled its printing presses. The Tribune posted a note to readers on its website saying it had a generator in place and Friday’s newspaper would be delivered at the same time as Saturday’s.

Aaron Perri, executive director of Downtown South Bend Inc., 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.”

Chodak said as of 4:30 p.m. Friday, I&M; crews had finished pulling out the damaged cables and were working to install new ones.

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

Police had placed 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 closed South Bend’s City-County building, Building Department, South Bend Water Works and the St. Joseph County Courthouse through Saturday.

South Bend Memorial Hospital was getting power from four generators. The hospital was diverting some people to other hospitals, but was accepting trauma patients and some transfer patients and had not evacuated any of its more than 200 patients.

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