SPRINGFIELD—Authorities said today they do not know what caused Friday night’s natural gas explosion that destroyed a strip club, crippled the city’s entertainment district, and sent more than a dozen people to the hospital.
Gas, police, and fire workers today continued to survey a five-block area around 453 Worthington St., where the explosion occurred, assessing structural damage and ensuring public safety at the scene.
Two firefighters suffered burns to the face in the explosion at Scores Gentleman’s Club, and a total of 11 firefighters were transported to local hospitals, according to Springfield Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant. He said three firefighters had remained hospitalized overnight, but all had been released as of 1 p.m. today.
“When the blast occurred, they were knocked to the ground,” Conant said of the firefighters. “Some were hit with bricks and debris.”
Four gas workers, two police officers, and a news cameraman for ABC40/FOX6 news had also been treated and released, Conant said at an afternoon press conference. He did not know the condition of a water-and-sewer worker who also had been hurt in the explosion.
A spokeswoman for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, the company responsible for supplying the area, said she still did not know today what had caused the gas leak and explosion. She said 30 to 50 workers are monitoring gas levels in the area, which is still receiving gas.
“The natural gas system in the area is intact,” said the spokeswoman, Sheila Doiron. “There are no services shut off, and there is no fear of future services being shut off.”
A dancer at the strip club said Friday night that she had smelled gas in the building for the past four months. She said the owner used deodorizers to mask the scent.
But Doiron said Columbia Gas examined records from the past six months and found no reports from the club or the surrounding area about a gas odor. In addition, Doiron said, the company checked records back to 2001 and found nothing that qualified as a gas system leak in the area.
A lawyer for Scores could not immediately be reached for comment.
Doiron said Columbia Gas workers will excavate the gas line that served Scores for examination.
The company first received calls for the odor of gas around the strip club at 4:20 p.m. Friday. The explosion happened about an hour later.
Doiron said she did not know how big the leak was, but gas workers were on scene within 25 minutes of the initial call, and they evacuated 12 to 20 people from Scores. They cut service to the club and, Doiron said, gas levels in the building had started to decrease when the blast occurred.
Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said at the press conference that he did not yet know how much financial damage the explosion caused.
“We will be calculating that—we want to see if there is a declaration that will avail us to other funds,” Sarno said of possible state or federal emergency and disaster support.
Rubble lay strewn about the former site of the strip club today, as business owners and residents swept up glass and boarded up windows.
On the streets surrounding the blast site, buildings have been tagged with red, yellow, and green signs.
Three non-residential buildings were given a red tag, meaning the building is condemned. About 24 buildings, including 71 apartment units, were given yellow restricted use tags. Those buildings are not safe for habitation now, but the city believes they can be repaired, said Geraldine McCafferty, director of the Office of Housing.
Many apartment buildings along Pearl Street, which runs parallel to Worthington, are adorned with the restricted use stickers as workers replace dozens of windows.
“[We’re] replacing over 38 windows, just on one side,” said Angel Rivera, 30, who works for Greatest Boston Property.
“The damage, as you can see, is a mess,” said Jimmy Carter, who does maintenance for a series of buildings on nearby Dwight Street. “It’s all broken windows though. There’s no structural damage we’re aware of.”
Carter said the businesses in the area are waiting to get the go-ahead from the city to reopen.
“We might as well write this weekend off,” he said. “Meanwhile, these people are trying to make a living.”
Rene Young, who owns AA Automotive and Repair, said his shop sustained about $5,000 in damage from the blast.
“We’ve got broken windows, some of the light fixtures inside fell, and a couple of the cars inside have cracked windows from things falling on them,” he said. “Structurally, everything is fine. I’ve got power and I’ve got water. I haven’t even thought about turning the gas on, though.”
McCafferty said her office established an information center in the state office building on Dwight Street to help residents. It will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
The city opened a shelter for displaced residents after the explosion Friday evening, but no one spent the night there. As of early this afternoon, city officials did not plan on opening a shelter tonight.