An explosion caused by a fault in an underground power cable rocked Walsall town centre, leaving 2,400 homes and businesses without electricity.
Dozens of high street shops were forced to close as the blast lifted a manhole cover off the ground, sending flames and black smoke rising into the air in Park Street by the McDonald’s restaurant.
Witnesses described hearing a loud bang and families inside the restaurant screaming after the electrical explosion at just before midday yesterday.
Staff at stores in the main shopping street said they were hundreds of pounds out of pocket after being forced to close during the busy lunchtime period.
Experts from Western Power were called to the scene along with police.
A cordon was set up outside McDonald’s, which remained closed for the remainder of the day.
Other stores reopened after around an hour as engineers quickly managed to fix the fault.
Shoppers and workers today described the dramatic moment the explosion sent shockwaves through the busy town centre street.
McDonald’s spokeswoman Ellen Wright said the restaurant was immediately evacuated after the explosion and no one had been hurt.
Alan Westwood, who runs the Gudspudz jacket potato van opposite the restaurant, said the manhole cover was flung up to eight inches into the air.
The flames were 18 inches high before turning into thick black smoke.
The 46 year-old said: “I just heard a loud bang and saw the manhole cover lifting out of the floor.
“Luckily, there was no one near it. The doors of McDonald’s were open and the black smoke that came up off the flames went into the store.
“You could hear everyone screaming in there. It must have been quite frightening.
“The staff came straight to the front and moved everybody back. Everybody was just shocked and stunned.
“If someone had been walking over the manhole at the time they would have got burnt.”
The majority of businesses along Park Street were forced to shut and customers were evacuated.
Sales assistant Tina Dangerfield, from the Card Factory, said: “We heard the bang from here, and when it happened we went outside to have a look.
“We were told it was an electrical explosion. We were closed for about an hour and must have lost at least £100.
“Our emergency light came on, otherwise it would have been pitch black. There were other shop staff outside seeing what had happened and wanting to know how long they would be shut.”
Christine Tolley, manager of Holland & Barrett, said it was the latest time they had been left without power following a power cut in April.
Describing the events of yesterday the 40-year-old said: “We heard a loud noise and then the electricity went off, we were shut for about an hour.
“It is frustrating to lose an hour’s trade.
“It can’t be helped but it is usually our busy period. We are probably a couple of hundred pounds down.”
Shopper Margaret Turner, aged 66, from Beechdale, said: “It was quite scary, all I heard was a loud bang, it is hard to explain what it was like.
“I am not sure exactly what happened but everyone has been talking about an explosion.”
Western Power Distribution said the power cut happened at around 11.45am and had affected about 2,400 properties.
Five engineers attended the site and were able to re-route the network and restore electricity supplies in stages, with the last properties regaining power at 12.48pm.
Spokeswoman Stella Hayward said: “It was because of a fault on one of the underground cables. Unfortunately, sometimes, as with any electrical appliance, a cable can fault and we won’t necessarily know the reason. We would like to apologise for any inconvenience.”