At least 21 people injured in apparent gas explosion at a Florida shopping center
Ray Sanchez and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN
(CNN) — At least 21 people were injured, including two seriously, after an apparent gas explosion Saturday shattered parts of a shopping mall in the South Florida city of Plantation, authorities said.
Firefighters were carrying out a secondary search of the mall, looking for additional possible victims, though they believe all had been located, Plantation Fire Deputy Chief Joel Gordon told reporters.
All the injured had been taken to area hospitals for treatment, he said. Among the injured was a child, but the injuries were no classified as serious, Gordon said.
“We’re relieved that considering the debris field and considering how we found the patients and where we found them, the injuries are not as severe as we would’ve thought they would be. So we’re very thankful for that,” Gordon said.
The Plantation Fire Department initially said a gas explosion had occurred, but later said they are still working to confirm the cause.
“We had ruptured gas lines. We did have an active gas leak when we arrived, (but) they were able to secure it,” Battalion Chief Joel Gordon said, referring to the Broward County’s hazardous materials team that initially secured the lines with TECO, a gas utility company.
“At this point, we have not actually confirmed that it was an explosion due to gas,” Gordon said. “We believe that. That’s what it appears to be.”
News footage and social media video showed firefighters arriving at the mall, where windows were blown out of an LA Fitness and the facade of a pizza restaurant appeared to be blown out. A section of the complex appeared to sustain significant damage, with shattered windows and scattered debris.
Gordon told CNN the access road to the mall was covered in debris when firefighters arrived. Gas lines in the mall had to be secured before first responders encountered the injured scattered throughout the complex.
“We also have patients that wandered away and came back again,” he said.
The state fire marshal, other local agencies and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the cause.
Gordon said there was an active gas leak at the scene when firefighters responded to the report of an explosion at about 11:30 a.m. ET.
The blast appeared to have occurred in a corner of the mall complex where two buildings intersect.
“There is a closed pizza place right on the corner but we haven’t confirmed it originated there,” he said.
Jesse Walaschek, 41, had just left the mall with his three children — ages 8, 6 and 4 — were just leaving the area when the explosion occurred.
Walaschek was driving away from the mall’s LA Fitness and pizza restaurant, the area where the explosion occurred, when he says he saw the explosion in the rearview mirror.
“It was crazy to see the building leveled,” he told CNN.
Plantation police tweeted: “All stores and businesses in the area of the Fountains Plaza and the Plantation Marketplace plaza near LA Fitness will be shut down until further notice until Fire Personnel can determine that it is safe to return. Please do not come into this area if possible.”
Gordon said a reunification center opened at Plantation Central Park Gymnasium for family members looking for their relatives and for details about businesses affected.
It’s unclear if the mall was open at the time of the explosion. Gordon said the LA Fitness was occupied.
In one social media video posted after the blast, people are seen surveying the aftermath, which included damage to cars and water cascading from an upper floor of a building.
“The whole building blew up,” a man is heard saying in one video.
Residents several miles from the blast reported feeling their homes shake, the station reported.