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.

Just Posted

Fires still burning near Telegraph Creek

BC Wildfire Service assures residents of a proactive plan heading into wildfire season

Northwest entrepreneurs pitch their plans for cash prizes

ThriveNorth announces 12 finalists in this year’s business challenge

Gas prices spike in northern B.C. ahead of the long weekend

Fuel went up 17 cents overnight in Prince Rupert

Cyclist braking stigma on addiction from coast to coast

Mathew Fee aims at world record for longest distance on BMX bike while sharing his story of recovery

VIDEO: Alberta man creates world’s biggest caricature

Dean Foster is trying to break the world record for a radio show contest

Northwest B.C. leaders divided over oil tanker ban

Senate hearings in Prince Rupert and Terrace show Bill C-48 is at a crossroads

Should B.C. lower speed limits on side roads to 30 km/h?

Vancouver city councillor wants to decrease speed limits along neighbourhood side roads

Lawsuit eyed over union-only raise for B.C. community care workers

‘Low-wage redress’ leaves 17,000 employees out, employers say

Landlord of alleged Okanagan shooter recounts deadly day

Tony Friesen was working in one of the units of his Penticton building when he heard shots

Foreign national arrested in connection to thefts at YVR

A woman, 60, is being held in police custody as Richmond RCMP investigate

Police pursue pesky porker on Vancouver Island

‘This was allegedly not the pig’s first escape’

Westjet tries again to dismiss proposed class-action lawsuit alleging discrimination

Former flight attendant claims airline broke contractual promise to create harassment-free workplace

Man airlifted to hospital after apparent hunting incident in East Kootenay

The man was in stable condition when he was flown out of Fairmont Hot Springs to a Calgary hospital

Most Read