Twenty people were injured, including two seriously, after a vacant pizza restaurant exploded in a South Florida shopping plaza Saturday, according to police.
The suspected gas explosion happened Saturday morning at the shopping center, west of Fort Lauderdale in Broward County, sending debris flying along a busy road.
A triage area has been set up at the scene of the The LA Fitness, where a number of those injured were thought to have been at the time of the blast.
‘We thought it was thunder at first, and then we felt the building shake and things started falling.
‘I looked outside and it was almost like the world was ending,’ said Alex Carver, who works at a deli across the street from the explosion. ‘It was nuts, man. It was crazy.’
The explosion demolished the building, leaving behind only part of its metal frame. It blew out the windows of the popular fitness club next door.
One witness told WPLG: ‘There was a huge flash of light, it lit up the whole sky. And it was loud, this surpassed fireworks, your ears were ringing. It just looks like an apocalypse.’
The blast sent large pieces of debris about 100 yards across the street.
Dozens of firefighters responded and could be seen picking through the rubble with dogs sniffing through the debris.
There were no known fatalities immediately after the explosion, said police officer Chavez Grant. Of the 20 injured, two were seriously hurt and 13 people are said to have gone to the Westside Regional Medical Center.
Fire departments from Plantation, Davie, Lauderhill, Coral Springs, and Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue were at the shopping center on South University Drive and Peters Road.
Officials said ruptured gas lines were found in the rubble and the local fire department initially called it a gas explosion with ‘multiple patients’.
Plantation Fire Rescue spokesman Joel Gordon said one person was injured by debris at a Tesla charging station while one employee at the gym suffered a leg injury.
He said: ‘We cannot confirm that a gas leak caused this explosion. We suspect it was but we cannot confirm that yet.’
The Sun-Sentinel newspaper reported that witnesses said a vacant restaurant appeared to be the source of the explosion.
Evan Hoffman, 47, was working out with wife Stacey when he heard a ‘huge bang’.
He said: ‘A huge, huge bang, thump, almost, explosion. It started shaking back and forth and the roof tiles started crashing down and the power went out.
‘We saw Good Samaritans carrying the injured. There’s a lot of damage, a lot of damage.’
Roads nearby are said to have been shut down amid the carnage.
Plantation police tweeted: ‘Plantation Police wants you to know about Police activity in the area of S University Dr & Peters Rd. Please avoid the area. No action required.
‘Update: All stores and businesses in the area of the Fountains Plaza and the Plantation Marketplace plaza near LA Fitness will be shut down until futher notice until Fire Personnel can determine that it is safe to return. Please do not come into this area if possible.’
Erez Yacob said the explosion shook the hair salon he works in at about 12:15 p.m. He said: ‘We heard a strong boom, and one second after, everything exploded in the shop and out in the street.’
‘It’s crazy. We thought it was a car or a bombing because everything disappeared.
‘I go to the gym there, so a lot of my friends and people from the area, I’m worried about them.’