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Explosion destroys Springfield buildings

Evacuations saved lives

Gas company workers stand where a building once stood, which was leveled by an explosion in downtown Springfield, Mass. on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Springfield Republican, Don Treeger)  MANDATORY CREDIT

Gas company workers stand where a building once stood, which was leveled by an explosion in downtown Springfield, Mass. on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Springfield Republican, Don Treeger) MANDATORY CREDIT

SPRINGFIELD — A massive natural gas explosion leveled two downtown Springfield buildings and sent more than a dozen people to area hospitals Friday evening.

Authorities say nobody was killed in the blast, but officials at two nearby hospitals said a total of 16 victims were transported with injuries but none was critical.

Officials told The Republican newspaper of Springfield that about a dozen public safety officers, most of them firefighters, were among those injured by the concussion and flying debris caused by the explosion.

Firefighters responded to the scene at 4:20 p.m. and were investigating a gas leak when the blast happened just after 5 p.m.

By that time, much of the area had been evacuated.

Scores Gentlemen’s Club, at the epicenter of the blast, was obliterated, as well as a day-care center next door.

A Scores dancer told The Republican that the club was evacuated just 20 minutes before it exploded.

Another dancer told that paper that an odor of gas had been detected at the club during the week, and gas company workers had been looking for its source.

The building at the center of the blast looked like it had suffered “a missile strike,” said Springfield Police Sgt. John Delaney.

“It’s a miracle on Worthington Street; nobody got killed,” he said.

The explosion blew out all the windows in a three-block radius, leaving three more buildings damaged beyond repair and prompting emergency workers to evacuate a six-story apartment building that was buckling.

Former Greenfield resident Abrah Orth was on her way home from work just before the explosion.

“I usually go through the entertainment district to get home, because it’s the straightest route,” said Orth. But when she got close to Worthington Street, she found the roads blocked by police. So, she took a detour to her nearby Franklin Street apartment.

“At work, I heard ambulances going by, but that happens often enough,” she said. “But it started to seem like there were a lot of them.”

At first, Orth thought the roadblock was for a street fight, but that assumption wouldn’t last.

“I parked near my apartment and turned my car off,” and that’s when the blast hit, she said, and rocked her car forward.

“It felt like the back of my car exploded.”

“I looked back, and saw the smoke,” she said. When she turned around, the drapes of the house in front of her were still shaking.

“I’ve never heard an explosion in person before, but it sounded like one,” she said. “It seemed like it was moving away from something, like a shock wave.”

After the blast, she said, people began pouring out of nearby apartments to see what was going on.

Orth said she has friends who work in the entertainment district, but, because the explosion happened in the early evening, they hadn’t started their shifts yet.

Area resident Wayne Davis said he felt his apartment building shake a block away.

“I was laying down in bed, and I started feeling the building shaking and creaking,” he said.

The Navy veteran said the boom from the explosion was louder than anything he’d ever heard, including the sound of a jet landing on an aircraft carrier.

State police working in the Belchertown barracks, nearly 20 miles away, said they felt the building shake from the explosion.

Firefighters continue to investigate the explosion, as they try to determine what ignited the gas.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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