Local fire officials said about 15 to 20 people were injured in an explosion at a Florida shopping center on Saturday that demolished part of a building and sent debris flying across the street.
The blast tore through the shops near LA Fitness on S. University Drive in Plantation, about six miles west of Fort Lauderdale, shortly before 11:30 a.m., fire Battalion Chief Joel Gordon told reporters.
First responders found an active gas leak when they got to the strip mall, Gordon said, but had not confirmed whether that caused the explosion. The leak has been secured, Gordon said.
Officials said they had found several people injured in and near the LA Fitness, but had not found anyone trapped. They were still searching the collapse area, Gordon said, but believed they had accounted for everyone. Two victims with serious injuries were brought to Broward Health Medical Center, one as a Level 1 Trauma patient.
“Thank goodness at this point nobody was killed,” Gordon said. “As bad as it is, it could have been a lot worse.”
Live streams of the area showed part of the shopping center entirely torn away. Debris flew about 100 yards across the street, WJXT in Jacksonville reported.
“We thought it was thunder at first, and then we felt the building shake and things started falling. I looked outside and it was almost like the world was ending,” Alex Carver, who works at a deli across the street from the explosion, told the Associated Press. “It was nuts, man. It was crazy.”
Authorities were not yet sure where the blast originated, Gordon said. In video sent to WPLG in Miami, people inside LA Fitness, its windows blown out, evacuated as lights flashed. A pizza restaurant next door was closed when the explosion hit.
Michael Lind, a former firefighter who helped evacuate people, told the Miami Herald that all that remained of the vacant pizza shop was its frame.
“It was like a war zone,” Lind told the Herald. “I’ve seen buildings blow up in the past but I’ve never seen it like this. it was just so much debris. The sheet metal was twisted. There was a lot of energy behind that explosion.”
All stores and businesses near The Fountains and Plantation Marketplace, another nearby shopping center, were closed indefinitely, Plantation Police said on Twitter. A city building official was on the scene, and a family reunification center was set up at Plantation Central Park.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Marisa Iati