Columbia explosion aftermath: Complete destruction of some businesses leave owners devastated – Baltimore Sun

Columbia explosion aftermath: Complete destruction of some businesses leave owners devastated - Baltimore Sun

Utility launches investigation into gas leak suspected in explosion in Maryland

Investigators are continuing to look into what caused the gas explosion at an office building in Howard County, Maryland, on Sunday morning, and are still assessing the damage.

The front of the Lakeside Office Building, on Stanford Boulevard in Columbia, collapsed after a gas explosion at about 8 a.m. Sunday, about a half-hour after the fire department got a call about a crater in the road that was emitting gas.

Investigation continues into Howard Co. gas explosion

No injuries have been reported; the fire department evacuated other area businesses before the explosion.

The blast was reported around 8 a.m. Sunday and badly damaged the office complex and shopping center on Stanford Boulevard in Columbia. No injuries were reported in the explosion which came after authorities had evacuated the area while checking a suspected gas leak. The cause of the explosion has not yet been determined.

Gas Explosion Destroys Shopping Center in Maryland, No Injuries Reported

At a news conference Monday morning, Howard County Fire and Rescue Services Deputy Fire Chief John Jerome provided a few more details about the incident: At about 7 a.m., the fire department responded to an automated general alarm at the building. They found a crack in the front parking lot and heard an apparent gas leak.

COLUMBIA, Md. – Officials say they will allow business owners and employees access to the office building that was ripped apart by a powerful natural gas explosion in Howard County over the weekend.

Fire crews then went into the building and found dangerous concentrations of natural gas inside, Jerome said. After a quick and hasty search for anyone inside, the fire personnel got out, isolated the area with the help of police and awaited a shut off from BG&E.

Business owners sifting through the aftermath of shopping center explosion in Howard Co.

At this point, Jerome said, the department is still conducting an active investigation into the cause.

Video: Massive Gas Explosion Destroys Maryland Office And Shopping Complex | TIME

Aaron Koos, a spokesman for BG&E, said the utility cannot speculate on the possible causes yet, adding that there is still equipment they havent been able to get in and examine.

A Social Security Administration employee who came in early on Sunday morning to catch up on some work first detected the leak. The employee reported smelling gas, according to the owner of the building. Upon their arrival, firefighters pinpointed a gas leak from underground where the gas line connects to the building. They noticed part of the parking lot swelling from the pressure building up, as The Baltimore Sun reported.

He said that no one in the building had made any calls about possible gas leaks in the previous year.

In February 2018, Koos said, the gas company was called for a potential problem at a restaurant in the building that turned out to be a customer appliance issue.”

While the firemen appreciated the praise, they found tremendous luck in the timing of the leak, since it was found before any of the stores had opened, according to Stephen Hardesty, the battalion chief of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services who said the explosion was one of the worst he had ever seen, as the AP reported.

Koos added that the gas mains in the area were tested last month and that no problems were found at the time. A piece of undamaged pipe from the building was pressure-tested Sunday and passed, he said.

“I have mobilized our team from the Howard County Economic Development Authority to assist those businesses and workers who may find themselves displaced by this event,” said Ball in a statement after the explosion, as CNN reported. “We will do everything possible to minimize the impact of this explosion.”

The gas spokesman added that theyll know more when they can get into the building, and that the company is committed to understanding what occurred.

Howard County businesses and employees affected by the explosion should call 410-313-6517 to schedule an escort into the building for belongings. Anyone entering the building must wear hard hats and safety glasses, provided by the fire department, but people should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and closed shoes (no flip-flops or sandals).

Bob Frances, director of Howard Countys Office of Inspection, Licenses and Permits, said his staff and the buildings owner are still reviewing the damage, with the help of the original structural drawings.

“A good portion of [the damage] is cosmetic, not load-bearing, Frances said, but neither he nor Jerome could provide a timetable for when the building would be safe for businesses to return.

“The building is at risk of collapsing, so we’re working with some building inspectors and the property owner to figure out what our next steps are to secure the building and help out as much as we can with the investigation that’s going to ensue with this,” Hardesty said.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said that the county is experienced in dealing with challenges … we know how to come together. He added that he was relatively thankful that it happened on a Sunday morning, with relatively few people around.

On Monday, Howard County officials are trying to help employers find temporary spaces for their businesses so that their employees can continue to work as the investigation continues. They are also letting people gather their belongings and assets from inside the building with escorts.

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A gas explosion at a shopping center in Columbia, Maryland, caused an office building in a shopping center to collapse on Sunday morning. 

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Posted in Columbia