Sixteen children were among those evacuated from the buildings adjacent to a gas leak that caused multiple explosions
A daycare in Washington, D.C., was evacuated moments before a gas leak caused a nearby building to explode on Thursday.
Multiple explosions rocked several buildings along the 1200 block of Marion Barry Avenue in the Anacostia neighborhood following a gas leak at a building, according to a series of social media updates from D.C. Fire and EMS.
Crews responded to the scene immediately after receiving a 911 call about a gas leak around 9:30 a.m. local time, D.C. Fire Chief John Donnelly said at a press conference held by Mayor Muriel Bowser Thursday morning.
Although the leak was found quickly, crews soon learned that it was out of their control, Donnelly said, forcing the adjacent buildings to be immediately evacuated, including 16 kids in a daycare next door to the leak.
Daycare staff were already clothing kids and putting them in strollers when crews arrived and began to clear out the buildings, Lieutenant Ryan Bolton told reporters, per FOX affiliate WTTG.
All 16 kids were safely evacuated moments before the first explosion, Donnelly said during the press conference, noting that all of them have since been reunited with their families.
“I think we’re very lucky today,” Bowser added after viewing the damage.
Update 2nd Alarm explosion & fire 1200 block Marion Barry Ave SE. 1 building has collapsed and on fire. 2nd building damaged by explosion. We are working on protecting adjacent structures. #DCsBravest pic.twitter.com/qORK5xZWnR
— DC Fire and EMS (@dcfireems) January 18, 2024
The leak is believed to have been caused by a vehicle that “struck the gas meter during some normal operations,” Donnelly said. He added that crews found the meter damaged when they arrived at the scene.
Bolton said crews heard the leak almost immediately upon arrival. “The gas was very noticeable,” he told reporters. “You could hear it leaking as well as smell it from the street.”
Crews then went to work evacuating the nearby buildings, with Bolton explaining, “We just wanted to make sure that everyone was out of the building and out of the block as quickly as we could.”
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The two-story building where the gas leak occurred exploded about 25 minutes after the first 911 call was placed, according to Donnelly. Bolton said crews were on scene for about 15 minutes before the first explosion occurred.
One of the two major explosions knocked out windows on the second floor of the building where the leak occurred and caused a flash fire, the fire chief said. The other explosion leveled a convenience store adjacent to the leak.
Three buildings were heavily impacted by the explosions, with Donnelly adding that the daycare sustained “extensive damage" as a result.
The mayor was admittedly stunned when she saw the damage the daycare sustained. “When I saw the building itself, my mouth fell open because if the children had been in that building, they would have definitely been impacted by that explosion,” Bowser said.
One person was hospitalized with minor, non life-threatening injuries sustained when they came in contact with debris from the explosion while walking on the street, Donnelley said.
The fire department is working closely with Washington Gas to control the leak that caused the explosions, per the fire chief. The fire caused by the explosion was contained, and would be put out once the leak was under control.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Washington Gas said it “is aware of the explosion.” The utility added, ”Our personnel are assisting [D.C. Fire] at the scene. As always, the safety of our customers and community is our top priority. We are supporting the active response to the incident and do not have further details to share at this time.”
Bowser, meanwhile, thanked the fire department for responding with “urgency” to Thursday’s emergency. “We are just grateful to the firefighters for making that necessary and quick decision to remove everyone,” she added.
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