Published: Fri, April 12, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Police say 1 dead, 15 injured in North Carolina gas explosion

Police say 1 dead, 15 injured in North Carolina gas explosion

The explosion happened in a shopping district created from remodeled tobacco warehouses and industrial buildings near downtown Durham. Access to the building was still restricted as firefighters and investigators worked the scene.

Authorities are asking people to avoid downtown while authorities continue search-and-rescue operations, which could take days.

Durham police said the West Village Toms Building is not now habitable.

The blast shook the structure and blew out its windows, said the witness, who declined to give his name.

Shortly after 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, firefighters began evacuating buildings after reports that nearby workers struck a gas line in the area. The firefighter, who has not been named, had serious but not life-threatening injuries and is undergoing surgery, officials say.

"Half the block is destroyed", witness Jim Rogalski told CNN via text message. Things started falling - ceiling tiles, and structure and glass and debris.

Durham Police Department public affairs manager Wil Glenn said a contractor boring under a sidewalk hit a 2-inch gas line, triggering the explosion. At least four people working in cubicles along those windows suffered deep cuts, bloody head wounds and other injuries, he said.

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"We're working closely with local emergency response & county officials", tweeted Dominion Energy, which is in charge of the gas in the area. Ed Rains was on a nearby street and couldn't see the blast but heard it. "We didn't know the origin at the time", he said.

"Paramedics pulled writhing people on the street to safety", he said, adding that he saw bystanders using their own shirts to treat injuries.

Classes have been dismissed for the day Wednesday at the Durham School of the Arts.

The building where the blast occurred is a former Studebaker dealership that now appears to host other businesses, including a coffee shop and a mental health clinic.

One of the leveled building's tenants was Prescient, a design and construction technology company. Officials said no one else is unaccounted for.

Ingram, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, was visiting the site midday Wednesday to inspect the extent of the damage, his assistant Karen Pottebaum told the News & Observer.

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