Strip club 'miracle': No deaths after huge explosion levels several buildings

Officials survey damage in the rubble of a destroyed building in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts November 23, 2012 (Reuters / Scott Eisen)
A powerful natural gas explosion in Massachusetts leveled three buildings and damaged several dozen others, killing none. The 18 people injured by the blast are reportedly in stable condition.

­The explosion went off at the Scores Gentleman's Club strip club in Springfield on Friday night, about an hour after a gas leak and odor was reported. Officials had evacuated the area around the club by the time of the explosion.

Gas workers searching for the leak found indications that the building was about to explode, and ducked for cover behind a utility truck alongside several firefighters and police officers. A massive explosion then destroyed the building, raining flying debris over the area.

Nine firefighters, two police officers, four gas workers, two civilians and another city employee were injured by the explosion. Most of the injured were from the group hiding behind the utility truck, which was destroyed by the blast.

Firefighters and rescue crews line the streets in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts November 23, 2012 (Reuters / Scott Eisen)
Firefighters and rescue crews line the streets in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts November 23, 2012 (Reuters / Scott Eisen)

­"It really is a miracle and it's an example of our public safety officials, each and every day, putting themselves in harm's way, taking what could have been considered a very routine call of an odor of gas, but they took the proper precautions," State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said. "And thanks to God that they did."

Preliminary estimates report that 42 homes and businesses in a three-block radius, which houses 115 residential units, were damaged in the incident. The explosion was heard kilometers away, with some residents initially mistaking the boom for part of a holiday celebration.

A restaurant two blocks away from the epicenter had its floor-to-ceiling windows shattered by the blast. "It looks like an earthquake hit. I've never seen anything like it," the restaurant's manager said on Saturday as he assessed the damage.

Blown out windows from an adjacent building are shown in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts November 23, 2012 (Reuters / Scott Eisen)
Blown out windows from an adjacent building are shown in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts November 23, 2012 (Reuters / Scott Eisen)

­A spa near the strip club, empty at the moment of the explosion, and another building were deemed damaged beyond repair. Authorities evacuated a six-story apartment building whose floors were buckling, and will conduct safety inspections of 24 other buildings damaged in the explosion.

After a thorough investigation, the state fire marshal's office has announced that the blast was caused by human error.

"By methodically examining and testing different segments of the gas infrastructur,e we were able to conclude that there was no leak of gas from the main in the street,” Massachusetts state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan told the press. “We have determined that human error, as opposed to a fault in the gas infrastructure, is what the cause of the explosion was."

A utility worker responding to reports of a gas leak accidentally punctured the high-pressure gas pipe, the official explained.

“His examination appears to have been an appropriate distance from where old markings were on the sidewalk indicating where the gas line from the main went into the building,” Coan said. "However, the markings were incorrect, and his metal probe inadvertently punctured the high-pressure gas line at the foundation of the building.”

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts said it is monitoring the area for other possible leaks, and police officers were deployed to prevent looting in the neighborhood.

Springfield is the largest city in west Massachusetts, with some 150,000 residents. It’s located about 140 kilometers west of state capital Boston.