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

Late night fight in Wetaskiwin results in aggravated assault, assault with a weapon charges

Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate armed robbery and aggravated assault

Maskwacis featured in documentary series that unearths Indigenous cuisine

Red Chef Revival’s host visits community, elders and Nipisihkopahk School

Millet council fires town manager Teri Pelletier

Press release says CAO terminated for just cause

Wetaskiwin Arts and Music Festival at Ag Society

Festival runs until 9 p.m. Saturday, June 22

Hobby farm approved by County of Wetaskiwin May 17

Just over 17 acres re-zoned as hobby farm

Video shows fireworks shot at swan in Alberta

Alberta Fish and Wildlife is investigating the incident in Grande Prairie

Ponoka County receives update from energy lobby group

CAPP hopes to work with municipalities on property tax issues

Air Canada reviewing how crew left sleeping passenger on parked plane

In a Facebook post, the woman said she woke up ‘all alone’ on a ‘cold dark’ aircraft

Canadians crash out of Women’s World Cup in 0-1 loss to Sweden

Canada missed a chance to tie the game on a penalty shot

PHOTOS: Event marks one year since soccer team rescued from Thai cave

Nine players and coach took part in marathon and bike event to help improve conditions at cave

Fighter Jets light up Bucs’ to take AFL first place

38-3 loss puts Central Alberta into second place in the AFL

PHOTOS: Scamp the Tramp wins World’s Ugliest Dog Contest

‘He’s Scamp the Champ, no longer Scamp the Tramp,’ his Californian owner said.

Deals on paid time off for domestic violence ‘beginning of a wave,’ says expert

Philippines was the first country to pay for domestic-violence leave, starting in 2004

Calgary Flames select forward Jakob Pelletier with the No. 26 pick

The 18-year-old winger from Quebec City had spoken with the club earlier in the day and knew they were interested

Most Read