Shop­ping plaza blast in­jures 21

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Business - By TERRY SPENCER

PLAN­TA­TION, Fla. — A va­cant pizza restau­rant ex­ploded Satur­day in a thun­der­ing roar at a South Florida shop­ping plaza, in­jur­ing more than 20 peo­ple as large chunks of con­crete flew through the air.

The blast flung de­bris widely along a busy road in Plan­ta­tion, west of Fort Laud­erdale. The restau­rant was de­stroyed, and nearby busi­nesses and cars were dam­aged. Though fire­fight­ers found rup­tured gas lines af­ter­ward, au­thor­i­ties said it was too early to de­ter­mine a cause.

“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, a worker at a deli across the street from the ex­plo­sion. “It was nuts, man. It was crazy.”

The ex­plo­sion hurled large pieces of con­crete up to 50 yards away and sent pieces of metal scat­ter­ing as far as 100 yards across the street. Carver said two of his co-work­ers’ cars were de­stroyed.

At least 21 peo­ple were in­jured though none of the in­juries was life-threat­en­ing, Po­lice Sgt. Jesica Ryan said.

The ex­plo­sion de­mol­ished the build­ing, leav­ing be­hind only part of its metal frame. The restau­rant, called Piz­zaFire, had been out of busi­ness for sev­eral months. The blast also blew out the win­dows of a pop­u­lar fit­ness club next door at the shop­ping plaza in Broward County.

Jesse Walaschek had just left the fit­ness club with his wife and three chil­dren, ages 4, 6 and 8. They were parked near the restau­rant and had just driven about 50 yards away when they heard the blast.

“It was a mas­sive ex­plo­sion like I have never ex­pe­ri­enced,” he said.

Walaschek said dust and de­bris filled the air.

“Ev­ery­thing just stopped. You didn’t see any­body. I just wanted to get th­ese guys safe,” he said, point­ing to his chil­dren.

“If this had hap­pened a minute be­fore when we were get­ting the kids in the car, it would have been re­ally bad.”

Dozens of fire­fight­ers re­sponded and could be seen pick­ing through the rub­ble with dogs sniff­ing through the de­bris to make sure peo­ple weren’t trapped un­der­neath. There were no known fa­tal­i­ties immediatel­y af­ter the ex­plo­sion.

Fire de­part­ment Bat­tal­ion Chief Joel Gor­don said there were rup­tured gas lines when fire­fight­ers ar­rived, but he couldn’t say for cer­tain that it was a gas ex­plo­sion.

“At this point, no­body was killed. Thank good­ness for that. As bad as it is, it could have been a lot worse,” Gor­don said.

As­so­ci­ated Press

This im­age taken from video pro­vided by WPLG shows de­bris cov­er­ing the park­ing lot of a shop­ping cen­ter af­ter an ex­plo­sion on Satur­day, in Plan­ta­tion, Florida.

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