Durham police said that Durham firefighters were sent to a gas leak call in the 100 block of N. Duke Street at 9:38 a.m. A contractor was boring under the sidewalk and struck a 2-inch gas line.
At 10:07 a.m., Dominion Energy and the Durham Fire Department were investigating the leak when the explosion happened, police said.
Officials said at least one person died as a result of the explosion and at least 15 people were transported to the hospital, including a firefighter who was seriously injured. A Dominion Energy employee was also injured.
Eleven of the 15 who were injured were transported to Duke University Medical Center, police said. The other four were taken to Duke Regional Hospital. The conditions of the injured are not available, police said.
Authorities said the building where the explosion occurred is partially collapsed and the building across the street is damaged as well.
Students from a nearby school, the Durham School of the Arts, were evacuated and classes dismissed for the day.
Duke University employee Mary Williams told the AP she heard the explosion and felt shaking at her building a third of a mile away.
“I was in the kitchen. I heard this loud boom and the building shook. When I looked out, I saw the smoke billowing up. I was scared for whoever was in the vicinity because it did not look very good.”
Another Duke employee in the same building, Sharon Caple, said the sky darkened in the minutes afterward.
“All you saw was this black smoke,” she said.
The explosion happened in a shopping district created from remodeled tobacco warehouses and industrial buildings near downtown Durham.
The building is occupied by Prescient Co., which said in July 2017 that it was moving its headquarters from Arvada, Colorado, and expected to employ about 60 executives, engineering and sales workers in Durham. The company uses specialized software to design and build precise materials that allow builders to assemble multi-story apartments, hotels and other commercial buildings faster and cheaper.
The city of Durham and the Durham City/County Emergency Management tweeted Wednesday that people should avoid the area of Duke and Morgan streets. The city said police and fire officials, as well as those from PSNC Energy, are responding.
Authorities have not said what caused the gas explosion.
Dominion Energy released a statement regarding the explosion:
PSNC Energy crews are on the scene of an emergency incident on 117 N. Duke Street in Durham. A PSNC Energy employee responded to a call about a third-party damage to a natural gas line and the explosion occurred shortly thereafter.
Additional PSNC Energy crews arrived at the scene at approximately 10:26 a.m. and shut off the flow of gas to the area at approximately 11:10 a.m. We are working closely with local emergency response and county officials.
Dominion Energy’s thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by this tragic event as well as their families. We are continuing to work with emergency officials on scene and updates will be issued when more information is available.”