In the midst of an evacuation undertaken in response to a gas leak in Durham, North Carolina, on the morning of April 10, 2019, a massive explosion occurred involving six buildings. One building was completely destroyed, that structure being the headquarters of Prescient Company. The Durham Fire Chief had been a first responder on 9/11 in Washington, D.C., described the scene in Durham as looking like the front of the Pentagon after the terrorist attack, albeit on a smaller scale. The explosion occurred in the midst of what is the downtown Durham shopping district, an area heavily populated during the day.
One person was killed by the explosion. At least 17 other individuals were transported to area medical centers. This included six people in serious condition and on other individual that was transported to a specialized burn center in Durham.
One firefighter who responded to the scene was also seriously injured. Although he required surgery, he is expected to live.
As of the end of the day on Wednesday, emergency personnel reported that no one was unaccounted for from the area. With that noted, emergency personnel, together with canines, have started a search and rescue initiative.
Cause of Durham Explosion Under Investigation
The cause of the Durham explosion is under investigation. What was known within a short time after the blast was t hat a contractor was boring into and under a sidewalk in the vicinity if the damaged buildings. In the process, the contractor struck what has been described as a 2-inch gas line, resulting in a leak. The leak was reported to PSNC Energy and its parent company, Dominion Energy. PSNC is the entity responsible for gas service in downtown Durham.
Occupants of buildings near the line rupture became aware of the accident and the gas leak and began evacuating their businesses and buildings. The evacuations appeared to have been expeditiously undertaken even thought there was not real clarity as to what had occurred, what was occurring, and certainly what was about to occur.
Upon receiving the report of the damaged gas line, PSNC dispatched a worker to the scene to ascertain the state of affairs. Directly after his arrival, the explosion occurred. Other PSNC workers were immediately dispatched to the scene to shut down gas lines in the area.
The explosion was heard for a number of blocks from the blast site. In addition, buildings several blocks away sustained damage as a result of the Durham explosion, including a goodly number of broken windows, damaged ceiling tiles, and some structural damage. There is talk of some people sustaining minor injuries at these locations, mostly caused by shattering glass.
Evacuation Undertaken Beyond Immediate Blast Zone
Following the explosion, an area covering several square blocks around the blast zone was evacuated. This included an evacuation of the Durham School of the Arts, which was evacuated and closed for the day. Access to the evacuation zone is expected to be permitted generally by later in the day on Wednesday or Thursday morning. Access to the direct zone is expected to be prohibited through Thursday as search and rescue efforts and the investigation continues.
Not the Kind of Day Durham Planned
Wednesday marked the 150th birthday of the city of Durham. Celebratory activities were planned throughout the city, throughout the day. Many activities were put on hold as a result of the Durham explosion. Although noting that the explosion was a grim event, the Mayor of Durham noted:
"But what I will say about that is that what we hoped would be a very happy day it's not a happy day, but, again, it's a day when I am so proud of how our local government functions."
Investigation to Identify Responsibility for Durham Explosion
The ongoing investigation is designed to confirm what is already believed to be the cause of the Durham explosion. In addition, the investigation is designed to identify parties who are responsible for causing or contributing to the blast and damages and injuries caused during its aftermath.The investigation into the Durham explosion only goes so far. A person injured as a result of the blast and its aftermath is likely to need to engage professional legal representation to make a case to obtain justice and appropriate compensation in a claim for damages or a lawsuit.