A massive gas explosion heavily damaged a Columbia, Maryland office shopping center on Sunday morning, according to local fire departments.
Though no injuries were reported in the blast, which occurred just before 7 a.m., the explosion was heard throughout the county area.
“It was so powerful it could be heard in communities many miles away,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement.
Authorities had evacuated the area earlier in the morning over suspicions of a gas leak near the complex, the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services said in a Facebook post. The explosion ripped through most of the building and resulted in scattered debris, damaging a Social Security office and the office of a local dentist.
Stephen Hardesty, the battalion chief of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, said that no businesses were open at the time of the explosion, helping to avoid serious injuries, NBC Washington reported.
However, Hardesty noted that it was one of the worst explosions he’s ever witnessed.
“The building is at risk of collapsing, so we’re working with some building inspectors and the property owner to figure out what our next steps are to secure the building and help out as much as we can with the investigation that’s going to ensue with this,” he said.
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We are grateful to Howard County first responders for being on the scene in minutes.— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) August 25, 2019
Our Maryland Joint Operations Center and the State Fire Marshal have offered their full support and assistance as we work to determine the cause of this explosion.
A number of nearby Columbia residents drove over to the explosion site after the incident to witness the damaged offices in the shopping center.
“I saw it online and it looked pretty devastating, so it’s even more dramatic up close,” Charlene Mead told NBC4.
Baltimore Gas & Electric said on Twitter that they shut off the gas to the building, and are working alongside the fire department to find the cause of the explosion.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan then took to Twitter to thank the Howard County first responders “for being on the scene in minutes.” He added that Maryland Joint Operations Center and the State Fire Marshal have also offered their full support and assistance in the investigation.