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Gas Explosion Rocks Howard County Building

"It was so powerful it could be heard in communities many miles away"

A massive gas explosion ripped through a Maryland office building and shopping center Sunday morning and could be heard miles away. 

No injuries were reported in the thundering blast, which occurred at about 8 a.m. It came after authorities said they had evacuated the area around the complex because of a suspected early morning gas leak near the complex in Columbia, Maryland.

Fire crews responded about an hour before the explosion because of a fire alarm that was upgraded to a report of a gas leak in the parking lot, officials said. When fire personnel arrived, they immediately evacuated everyone from the surrounding area and made sure the building was vacant.

The subsequent explosion ripped away a significant part of the facade, scattering debris.

"It was so powerful it could be heard in communities many miles away," said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball in a statement.

"In my neighborhood, a lot of people heard the boom this morning and so everyone was like, 'what was that?'" resident Jennifer Soler told News4.

No businesses were open, said Stephen Hardesty, the battalion chief of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. He said the time of day played a major role in the lack of injuries, and he described it as one of the worst explosions he's seen.

"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," Hardesty said.

A photo from Howard County Fire and EMS shows the Lakeside Office building at 8865 Stanford Boulevard with massive damage. That address is listed as the place of business for establishments including a Social Security office and a dentist.

Neighbors said on social media that they felt their houses shake.

"It could happen anywhere, anytime and it's sort of scary to think about it" resident Judy Eckels told News4.

Throughout the day, people drove to the building to see the damage.

"I saw it online and it looked pretty devastating, so it’s even more dramatic up close," Charlene Mead said.

"That's why I wanted to bring my boys out to show you the power of what can happen if you're not careful," said one man who did not want to be identified.

Baltimore Gas & Electric shut off gas to the building. Investigators from the Fire Marshall, BGE and other agencies will investigate.

BGE later said that crews didn't find anything wrong during a routine inspection of the gas lines in July. There was also no record of any reports of gas odors at the building in the past year.

Howard County officials said Monday they were helping the businesses find temporary spaces and business owners were allowed to go inside what was left of the building to get important belongings.

“Longer term, we are assessing the business’s needs and for those that can be relocated, we will be finding temporary space for them,” said Larry Twele, Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO. “We are working with the Office of Workforce Development to make sure the [impacted] employees are taken care of as well.”

Gov. Larry Hogan thanked first responders for being on the scene within minutes. The governor said the Maryland Joint Operations Center and the State Fire Marshal have offered their full support and assistance.

"This massive explosion was felt in many of the surrounding communities, a shock to families across the area," Hogan said in the tweet. "Thankfully, no injuries have been reported so far."

Ball said the county will be helping affected businesses and workers.

"I have mobilized our team from the Howard County Economic Development Authority to assist those businesses and works who may find themselves displaced by this event," Ball said. "We will do everything possible to minimize the impact of this explosion (on) those who are affected by it."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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