April 10, 2019

DURHAM, N.C. — A gas explosion killed 1 person and injured 17 others, including a Durham firefighter, in downtown Durham on Wednesday.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel pointed out the timing during a news conference Wednesday afternoon, after calling the Durham gas explosion and subsequent fire a “terrible tragedy.”

“I feel a real sense of loss and of grief,” he said. “It’s a very difficult day in that way. But I feel something else as well, and that is a tremendous sense of gratitude. I saw firefighters with their hoses…fighting that fire not knowing if there was another potential gas explosion.”

The explosion happened shortly after 10 a.m. at 115 North Duke St., a building that houses Prescient Co Inc. and Kaffeinate coffee shop.

Authorities said it was caused by a contractor who hit a gas line. That contractor was hired by Kaffeinate and did receive the required permits before beginning work, according to North Carolina 811 Executive Director Louis Panzer. Panzer said an investigation into what happened will take place.

A post on Kaffeinate’s Instagram account around 2 p.m. said the owner, Mr. Lee, was still missing.

However, officials said everyone known to be in the buildings has been accounted for.

A Prescient company spokesperson told ABC11 that all of their employees are safe. “We are grateful to the first responders that are working closely with the local authorities,” the spokesperson said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all who were affected by today’s incident.”

What we know about the victims

– 1 dead
– 17 injured (6 critically, 1 at UNC burn center)
– 5 taken to Duke Regional Hospital; 7 taken to Duke University Hospital (others went to the hospital on their own)
– 1 Durham firefighter seriously injured. The firefighter was identified as Darren Wheeler of Durham FD. He is out of surgery and is recovering from his injuries, a city spokesperson said ;late Wednesday evening.
– 1 Dominion Energy employee
There were several Duke University employees injured from shattered glass, the university said.

“Many Duke colleagues responded quickly and admirably to get help for their injured co-workers,” said Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration and Duke’s emergency coordinator, “The coordinated efforts among Durham officials, Duke Police, and Duke University Health System has been exceptional and helped address immediate needs and mitigate further impact.”

Search and rescue efforts

Officials said a search-and-rescue operation made up of a 35-member special task force is underway at the site of the explosion.

In total, five buildings were involved. Officials rescue crews are expected to use cameras, K-9 officers and larger machinery to search those buildings during the next few days.

Officials will send out notices to residents and business owners to let them know when they can return to the area to retrieve property while search and cleanup efforts are underway.

What we know about the explosion

A gas leak was first reported to Durham officials around 9:30 a.m. Upon arrival, first responders requested backup from police and started to evacuate the building.

During evacuation efforts, an explosion occurred at 10:07 a.m. and affected five buildings.

Witnesses told ABC11 they smelled gas in the area before the explosion.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Robin Jarvi said. “I was sitting at the traffic light…and I smelled heavy, heavy gas. There were people in the building. I saw a business owner put a sign that said ‘Business is closed for the day because of a gas leak.’ As soon as I went through the traffic light, the whole building exploded.”

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