Seattle explosion levels buildings, injures firefighters
An aerial view of damage from a natural gas explosion that flattened buildings in Seattle Wednesday morning, March 9, 2016. Crews were responding to reports of a natural gas leak when the explosion occurred along a main thoroughfare just north of downtown, Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Corey Orvold said. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP)
Martha Bellisle and Manuel Valdes, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, March 9, 2016 9:51AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, March 9, 2016 5:29PM EST
SEATTLE -- Shop owners on Wednesday inspected walls that were ripped to shreds by an early morning natural gas explosion in Seattle and marveled that the blast had caused no serious injuries.
Crews were responding to reports of a gas leak when the explosion occurred about 1:40 a.m. along a main thoroughfare in a neighbourhood north of downtown.
"The most important thing is that no one died and this happened at two in the morning and not two in the afternoon," said Chris Maykut, owner of Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe. "If it had happened at two in the afternoon, things would be really bad right now."
The blast sent nine firefighters to a hospital. All were treated and released. There were no reports of other injuries or missing people. Still, dogs searched the rubble.
The cause of the explosion that damaged 36 businesses was under investigation.
Video surveillance from the Olive and Grape Mediterranean Restaurant showed a bright flash at 1:43 a.m. and then the room shook as debris fell from the ceiling. A large garage door covering the restaurant's front windows protected it from extensive damage.
"The Olive and Grape was lucky," owner Paola Kossack said in an email.
Bike shop owner Davey Oil said he arrived soon after the fire trucks.
"There were tons of flames leaping over what was already the rubble of Neptune coffee, which as you can see now totalled, gone," he said.
The initial emergency calls revealed the initial chaos.
"Mayday, mayday, mayday," a fire dispatcher screamed immediately after the explosion, calling for a full response. "I have firefighters missing."
Eight firefighters and a battalion chief were later treated at Harborview Medical Center. Several were hurt by falling debris. None were admitted.
"We didn't have anybody with burns, nothing life-threatening, nothing major," hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.
Kenny Stuart, president of the Seattle firefighters union, said it was "extremely fortunate" that no first responders were seriously injured or killed.
Residents and shop owners in the Greenwood neighbourhood spent the morning surveying damage and cleaning up rubble and glass that littered the streets. Workers from one cafe damaged in the blast poured coffee for firefighters.
Among the businesses damaged or destroyed were Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyro and the bike shop G&O Family Cyclery. An apartment building and another nearby residential structure were evacuated.
"I know neighbours will do everything they can to support these businesses as they begin the long and challenging task to recover and repair from this incident," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement.
Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Akiko Oda said it will take time to determine what caused the explosion, and the utility will be working with the Seattle Fire Department in the investigation.
Pipeline safety investigators from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission were also at the scene.