The Official Student Newspaper of Calvin College Since 1907
February 29, 2008
Volume 102, Issue 21
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Gas leak causes Eastown explosion
  Enlarge Photo by Aaron Roorda
An explosion on Wealthy St. shook surrounding houses but thankfully only injured three.
  Enlarge Photo by Aaron Roorda
Smoke billows from the site of the explosion in Eastown. The building was a total loss.

Neighbors on the Wealthy street’s 1500 block said they thought a bomb had gone off when an explosion occurred at that location on Tuesday afternoon. A building containing several businesses burst into flames from what authorities suspect was a severe gas leak. The explosion is still being investigated.

On Tuesday morning, the tenant of the building at 1500 Wealthy thought he smelled gas, and after reporting this to others in the building who confirmed it, he went on to call DTE Energy. When DTE workers arrived, they immediately recognized the seriousness of the situation and called for an evacuation of the premises.

The utility workers who first arrived were still inspecting the severity of the leak when the explosion occurred. Three people were injured by the fire. They were quickly taken to Blodgett Hospital with minor injuries. Two were released the same day, and one remained overnight for observation.

Michael Williamson, the manager of Wolfgang’s Restaurant, told WZZM 13 that at one point, as many as 15 emergency response vehicles were parked around the explosion site.

“It shook the house so I thought the roof had caved in,” said Linda Kennedy, a neighbor to the exploded building, to WZZM 13. “The cats flew down the stairs. I went outside thinking something hit my car. I saw my neighbors running to the corner, police were just getting there and it was awful.”

Emergency responders and witnesses said it was a miracle that no one was killed in the explosion which rocked the entire block and razed the building in which the explosion occurred. The building, which housed a copy center, a hair salon, a massage clinic, a silk screen company and a real estate office, was leveled, but most people got out with little or no injury.

Roland Penning, who was across the street when the explosion happened, told WZZM 13 it was “the loudest boom I ever heard. It felt like a bomb went off.”

The manager of Rafav’s Restaurant, Ralph Wal, said in an interview with WZZM 13, “The way it looked we thought everyone was gone. Thank God we started to see some life come crawling out of the building.”

By Wednesday night, authorities were confirming that in fact the explosion and ensuing blaze was caused by a gas leak. Because of the gas, it took emergency workers quite some time to put out the fire. As firemen poured thousands of gallons of water onto the burning building, the surrounding buildings were protected but the explosion site could not be immediately extinguished due to the freely flowing gas.

It was not until workers dug into the ground and turned off three separate valves that the gas stopped feeding the flames and the fire could at last be put out.

The building was completely destroyed and was still smoldering and fuming on Wednesday. The glass that had sprayed out from the windows, along with the other charred debris, was cleaned up. Despite all of the destruction, the community can be thankful that no one was killed.

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