Gas explosion in US flattens strip club, rocks infant center

AP, SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts

Mon, Nov 26, 2012 - Page 7

Preliminary investigations show more than 40 buildings were damaged in a natural gas explosion in western Massachusetts in the US that injured 18 people, building inspectors said on Saturday.

A strip club was flattened and a daycare center damaged in the massive explosion on Friday night in Springfield, one of the biggest cities in the US northeast. No one was killed in the explosion.

Investigators were trying to figure out what caused the blast that was be heard for kilometers and left a large hole in the ground where a multistory brick building once stood.

Officials had already evacuated part of the entertainment district after responding to a gas leak and odor reported about an hour before the explosion. Gas workers venting a gas leak got indications that the building was about to explode and ducked for cover behind a utility truck — along with firefighters and police officers — just before the blast, New England Gas Workers Association president Mark McDonald said.

Most of the injured were in that group and the truck that saved their lives was essentially demolished, he said.

The victims were taken to two hospitals in the city. None of their injuries were considered life-threatening, officials said. Those injured were nine firefighters, two police officers, four Columbia Gas workers, two civilians and another city employee.

Officials marveled how the 5:30pm blast occurred when a daycare center next door was closed. The center’s building was heavily damaged.

The explosion blew out windows in a three-block radius, leaving at least three buildings irreparably damaged and causing emergency workers to evacuate a six-floor apartment building that was buckling, police said.

Preliminary reports show the blast damaged 42 buildings housing 115 residential units, Springfield mayor’s spokesman Thomas Walsh said.

Springfield, which is 145km west of Boston and has about 150,000 residents, is the largest city in western Massachusetts. It is known as the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is not in the vicinity of the blast.

The city has been rebuilding from damage it sustained in a tornado in June last year.