Inspectors stand in debris, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, at the site of a gas explosion that leveled a strip club in Springfield, Mass., on Friday evening. Investigators were trying to figure out what caused the blast where the multistory brick building housing Scores Gentleman's Club once stood. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
A utility worker responding to reports of a gas leak in western Massachusetts punctured a pipe that led to a massive explosion that injured 18 people and damaged more than 40 buildings, the state fire marshal announced Sunday.
“It was like ‘boom’, and then everything stopped. Everything was shaking in front of me,” said Alexis Elkins, who witnessed the explosion from blocks away.
Firefighters responded to the scene at 4:20 p.m. and were investigating a gas leak when the blast happened shortly after 5 p.m.
The Scores Gentlemen’s Club on Worthington St is gone. The blast was so powerful, it leveled one building and damaged about two dozen others.
Police Sgt. John Delaney said it looked as though there was a missile strike where the explosion leveled the multistory building at its epicenter.
It’s unclear how many residents in the area were displaced, but aid is being offered those affected.
Mayor Domenic Sarno said a shelter was opened at Central High School for those who could not return to their homes Friday night.
Eighteen people, including nine firefighters, two police officers, utility workers and civilians were injured. None of them are in critical condition.
That’s good news, considering firefighters and gas workers were at or near the site minutes before the explosion, checking out a gas odor complaint.
“Through God’s mercy, we are not aware of any fatalities,” said Mayor Sarno.
Columbia Gas Company is investigating the location of the gas leak. For now, a perimeter has been set up and the area has been closed off, as the gas company continues to monitor gas levels.
Until more is known, Mayor Sarno warned people to stay away from the area.
“The entertainment district is closed down. We have an anti-looting unit," said Sarno.
For residents like Elkins, who’s still shaken up by what she saw this afternoon, it may be a while before things seemingly return to normal.
“What’s going to happen next? Will there be another explosion?”
Leaders will be inspecting some buildings in the area to make sure the structures are intact. It’s unknown how long this area will be shut off to the public.