An injured firefighter who is being hailed as a hero for helping to evacuate a building before a powerful gas explosion in a Portland shopping district on Thursday said he was tossed up to 6m by the blast.
The explosion on Wednesday morning hurt eight people, demolished a three-story historic building and ignited a fire that sent a plume of smoke over the city.
Three firefighters, two police officers and three civilians were injured.
None of the injuries were life-threatening.
Portland Fire and Rescue Lieutenant Peter St John blacked out after the explosion and awoke in pain as chaos unfolded around him, he said in an interview from his hospital bed.
The blast broke his left femur, as well as the tibia and fibula of his right leg, he said.
“I got thrown across the street and I was tied up in a chain-link fence on the ground,” he said. “I tried to wiggle my toes because I couldn’t move my legs... Then I looked at my right leg, I knew it was broken at that point.”
Portland Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Myers on Wednesday said that St John ran inside the building to pull fire alarms and called the young lieutenant a hero, but St John said he does not agree.
He did evacuate the building and order the fire trucks to move back, he said, but he looked for fire alarms and could not find any.
Other members of his team helped with the evacuations and pulled alarms, he said.
“I feel like I’m not a hero. I just did what everyone else would have done,” St John said. “It’s our job. We’re to go in and protect the citizens, and that’s what I did.”
St John, a father of three, underwent lengthy surgery on Wednesday to insert a rod in his leg, but he appeared in good spirits on Thursday.
He spoke softly from a reclining position in his hospital bed. He had small cuts on his forehead, cheeks, hands and ears from debris from the blast.
When first-responders first pulled up, the gas was so thick the firefighters could see waves in the air, St John said.
He and other firefighters decided to don protective masks, he said.
“That’s about right when the explosion happened, when we got our masks,” he said. “Next thing I knew, I saw the explosion from the basement to the third floor.”
The building blew up in three blasts — one for each level — with a slight pause between each boom, he said.
Myers on Thursday reiterated that the heroism of St John and others prevented a far worse outcome.
“I fully expected to get here and have firefighter fatalities,” he said, adding that from the call he received he expected to find “numbers of firefighters down.”
The blast reduced to rubble a 110-year-old building that housed a bagel shop and other businesses in the popular NW 23rd Street shopping district.
Portland’s NW 23rd Street — nicknamed “Trendy Third” — is packed with boutiques, bars and restaurants. Many are on street level with pricey apartments on the upper levels and a daycare facility is in the vicinity.
The explosion occurred at 9:38am, when many businesses were still closed.
Construction workers nicked a natural gas line outside the building and gas collected inside, but the ignition source had yet to be determined.
The NW Natural utility said it got a call at 8:55am about the gas line being hit. Authorities and utility workers responded within 15 minutes and evacuated the building, chief executive David Anderson said at a news conference.
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500