In this image taken from video firefighters and emergency officials respond to an explosion and fire in downtown Durham, N.C. on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (WTVD-TV ABC 11 via AP)

One dead, 17 injured in North Carolina gas explosion

“It looks like the front of the Pentagon on 9-11 — but on a very, very small scale”

North Carolina firefighters responding to a gas leak were evacuating people from a building Wednesday morning when it exploded, killing one and injuring more than a dozen others, officials said.

Durham Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said the blast at 10:07 a.m. involved five buildings on the block and catastrophically damaged one.

“It looks like the front of the Pentagon on 9-11 — but on a very, very small scale,” he said, noting that he was a first responder during the terrorist attacks.

On Wednesday afternoon, jagged roof beams jutted out of the collapsed building, along with bent sheet metal, bricks and wood. A massive stream of water from a ladder truck sprayed onto the remnants, draining down the street as firefighters walked past. Half of the caved-in roof cascaded into the rubble pile like a breaking wave.

READ MORE: Search resumes for Merritt cowboy missing since January

Now that the fires have been contained, crews will begin search and rescue operations, Zoldos said at a news conference. No one is unaccounted for, the chief said, but they’ll use dogs and listening devices to make sure no one is inside the rubble.

A total of 17 people were seen at hospitals — six in critical condition and one transported to a burn centre — Durham EMS Assistant Chief Lee Van Vleet said. Zoldos said one firefighter was seriously injured and in surgery but expected to recover.

Zoldos said the cause of the explosion was still under investigation. A contractor boring under a sidewalk had hit a 2-inch (5-centimetre) gas line, causing the leak, Durham Police Department spokesman Wil Glenn said.

Jim Rogalski, 58, was working in his office across the street from the destroyed building when the explosion blew out the windows. At least four people working in cubicles along those windows suffered deep cuts, bloody head wounds and other injuries, he said.

“There was lots of screaming. …” Rogalski said. “It was pretty frantic there for a little bit until help showed up.”

Rogalski was seated one row away from the windows and wasn’t hurt.

“It was terrifying,” he said. “The whole building shook. Things started falling — ceiling tiles, and structure and glass and debris. Lots and lots of dust. It was tough to see beyond 20 feet or so.”

READ MORE: Facebook cracks down on groups spreading harmful information

The explosion came about 15 minutes after the office’s human resources manager sent an email warning that the city’s fire department was investigating the smell of gas and that workers shouldn’t leave the building through the front door, he said as a friend gave him a ride home to Chapel Hill. Rogalski said he was forced to abandon his car in a nearby parking deck because authorities worried the blast may have weakened the structure.

Dominion Energy said in a press release Wednesday that subsidiary company PSNC Energy had received a call about “third-party” damage to a natural gas line in Durham. A PSNC worker responded, and the explosion “occurred shortly thereafter.” The company said additional crews arrived and shut off the gas.

The firm added that its “thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by this tragic event as well as their families.”

Blocks away, the blast shattered windows and blew at least one door off its hinges in the Brightleaf shopping district. Ed Rains was on a nearby street and couldn’t see the blast but heard it. “I thought someone had dropped a dumpster on the street,” he said.

Tracy Telenko was at his desk in his third-floor Durham office when he heard the explosion and saw black smoke billowing up.

“My first thought, because there was construction going on around my building, was something fell, somebody doing construction dropped something,” he said.

Telenko said he went home after his boss told employees they could leave if they didn’t feel safe in their office.

At nearby Durham School of the Arts, students were evacuated and classes dismissed for the day. Teacher Al Donaldson was walking through a hallway in a building about two blocks from the blast when he heard a loud noise, which concerned faculty and students.

“We didn’t know the origin at the time,” he said. “I was in the hallway, so I didn’t so much feel it shake as experiencing a jarring sound.”

The collapsed building is occupied by Prescient Co., which said in July 2017 that it was moving its headquarters from Arvada, Colorado, and expected to employ about 60 executives, engineering and sales workers in Durham. The company uses specialized software to design and build precise materials that allow builders to assemble multistory apartments, hotels and other commercial buildings faster and cheaper.

___

Jonathan Drew, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Quesnel Lions Club’s fundraising takes pandemic hit

Club president Brent Oxenbury says their annual fundraising draw sales are drastically down in 2020

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

BC VOTES 2020: Voter registration closes Saturday, Sept. 26

Voters can still register or update their information when they vote, but it will take longer

“I should be in school” — Quesnel alternate school students protest classroom removals

McNaughton Centre students took to the streets to protest on Sept. 24

Quesnel council eager to work with Barkerville Gold Mines

Councillors recently heard an update on the Cariboo Gold Project proposed underground mine

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

2 British Columbians arrested, 3 at large in massive Alberta drug bust

Eight people are facing 33 charges in what police have dubbed Project Incumbent

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Trudeau ‘disappointed’ by RCMP treatment of Sikh officers over mask issue

World Sikh Organization of Canada said taking Sikh officers off the front lines constitutes discrimination

Liberals reach deal with NDP on COVID-19 aid bill, likely averting election

NDP and the Liberals have reached an agreement on COVID-19 sick-leave

Most Read