North Carolina firefighters have worked through the morning and afternoon after the explosion at a building in downtown Durham

By Char Adams
April 10, 2019 04:01 PM

North Carolina firefighters were searching through rubble Wednesday after an explosion at a building in downtown Durham killed one person and left 17 injured, multiple reports say.

Authorities were responding to a call about a gas leak around 9:38 a.m. and were evacuating people from the building in the 100 block of N. Duke St. when it exploded just after 10 a.m., according to the Raleigh News & Observer. The leak began when a contractor hit a gas line while digging under a sidewalk.

The blast involved five buildings and left one severely damaged, Durham Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said, according to the Associated Press.

“Half the block is destroyed,” one witness, Jim Rogalski, told CNN. “Lots of injuries. Our office across the street was blown out. It was terrifying. Glass and debris everywhere. No one killed in our office but several injuries — deep cuts, head lacerations.”

Gerry Broome/AP/Shutterstock

The Durham Fire Department shared photos of their efforts on Facebook hours after the incident, urging residents to avoid the area as they continued to work.

The 17 injured were taken to local hospitals, with six critically wounded, CNN reported. A Dominion Energy employee who responded to the gas leak was injured along with a firefighter. Zoldos said the firefighter’s injuries are serious but not life-threatening, according to CNN.

RELATED: Massachusetts Governor Declares State of Emergency Following Deadly Gas Explosions

One witness, Dottie Flake, said she felt the impact from the explosion at her home a block away.

“I just heard a boom, and didn’t know what it was with all the construction around here,” she told the News & Observer. “I saw the smoke, then fire trucks and first responders, and everyone was rushing out of their buildings.”

Zoldos said that the person who died was likely trapped in the building and it could take at least two days for rescue teams to search all the rubble, according to the News & Observer. He noted that everyone who worked in the building has been accounted for, but it is unclear if any customers or visitors were inside at the time.

Members of the Raleigh and Chapel Hill fire departments were on the scene, according to the News & Observer, along with a hazardous materials regional team from Raleigh and structural engineers.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel called the explosion a “terrible tragedy” during a Wednesday news conference.

“I feel a real sense of loss and of grief. It’s a very difficult day in that way,” he said. “But I feel something else as well, and that is a tremendous sense of gratitude. I saw firefighters with their hoses … fighting that fire not knowing if there was another potential gas explosion.”

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