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

North Island Midget Eagles get their feet wet against Alberni Valley Bulldogs

The North Island Midget Eagles travelled down island to face off against the Bulldogs.

Candidates illuminate different visions of Port Alice’s future

The candidates were asked if they believed the pulp mill could run again.

VIDEO: Terry Fox Run returns to Port Hardy for the first time since 2016

All told, Port Hardy’s Terry Fox Run raised $2,200.30 with more still coming in.

2019 FEDERAL ELECTION: Meet the candidates for the North Island-Powell River riding

In an effort to inform the North Island-Powell River riding constituents, we… Continue reading

Port Hardy celebrates Pride Day at Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre

In the evening, FISH TACO: A Seaside Drag performance was held at the Quarterdeck Pub.

VIDEO: Drone footage documents work to free salmon at Big Bar landslide

Video shows crews working to remove rocks and wood, and transporting salmon by helicopter

Man who crushed Nanaimo RCMP cars with stolen truck gets more jail time

Majore Jackson, 34, sentenced to two more years in jail in provincial court in Nanaimo

Defense says burden of proof not met in double murder case against Victoria father

Closing statements begin in trial for man accused of killing daughters Christmas 2017

B.C. dog breeder banned again after 46 dogs seized

The SPCA seized the animals from Terry Baker, 66, in February 2018

Surrey mom allegedly paid $400,000 for son in U.S. college bribery scam

Xiaoning Sui, 48, was arrested in Spain on Monday night

Three dogs found shot dead in Prince George ditch

The three adult dogs appeared to be well cared for before being found with gunshot wounds, BC SPCA says

B.C. party bus company to be monitored after 40 intoxicated teens found onboard

Police received tip teens and young adults were drinking on party buses and limousines in Surrey

Rick Mercer calls out Conservative candidate in B.C. for fake meme

‘Not true. All fake. Please Stop,’ tweeted Rick Mercer in response

Bear killed in Kimberley after chasing girl, wreaking havoc on town

This particular brown-coloured bear has been the subject of many calls this summer; very food habituated, CO says

Most Read