SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJZ/AP)– At least two people are dead, dozens are injured and up to seven are still unaccounted for after an explosion and massive gas-fed blaze ravaged an apartment complex in Silver Spring early Thursday morning.
Assistant Montgomery County Police Chief Russ Hamill said at a news conference that the two deceased people, found in the building ruins, have not yet been identified.
Hamill also said three firefighters with minor injuries were among 34 people taken to local hospitals after the fire. Hamill appealed for all residents of the building to contact authorities as people have still not been accounted for.
Paul Carden, regional disaster director for the American Red Cross, estimated that 100 people were displaced, and 60 or 70 were staying at a Red Cross shelter established at a nearby community center.
More than 160 firefighters responded after the explosion and fire struck the four-level Flower Branch Apartment building in the 8600-8700 block of Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring just before midnight. Firefighters in a nearby station even heard the explosion.
When crews arrived, “People were dropping children and jumping out of other windows,” Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said. “Everybody was getting out of the building as rapidly as possible.”
Approximately 30 apartment units were affected.
A photo captured by Tom Hucker, a Montgomery County Councilman, shows the massive fire burning into the night with debris scattered across the road.
Keni Flores said she was in an adjacent building when she heard an explosion and saw the flames.
“I just see fire everywhere,” she said. “I was thinking nobody can survive in that fire.”
Karina Hauffen was also in a nearby building at the time.
“It was a big boom, the building shook and everybody ran out,” she said.
The bulk of the blaze was knocked down around 1:30 a.m., but authorities say there is significant damage, including a structural collapse.
Resident Willie Morales told The Washington Post he was walking across the road where the complex is located when he heard an explosion and collapsed to the ground.
“It was one big boom, like nothing I’d ever heard,” Morales said. Then he saw flames coming from the building and banged on windows to tell people to get out.
Goldstein said natural gas furnaces and stoves are in each of the units.
County officials are investigating along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The cause of the fire–which authorities believe was fed by natural gas– remains under investigation.
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