COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — Business owners got a first look Monday at the damage caused by a gas leak and explosion at a Columbia shopping center and office complex over the weekend.

The explosion left parts of the building in pieces and nearly two dozen businesses looking for a temporary place to set up shop.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s sad,” said Rohit Chawla, the owner of Mango Grove restaurant.

Mango Grove is one of 22 businesses impacted by Sunday’s explosion.

The Lakeside Office Building and shopping center is home to businesses ranging from restaurants to a nail salon, a day spa and an office for the Social Security Administration.

“It definitely touches me. It hits home because this is where I bring my things,” said Columbia resident Felicia Smith.

Officials escorted business owners inside Monday. What they saw left some speechless.

“It is tough but I guess we need to get through this,” Chawla said.

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Howard County fire officials said it was an automated alert that sent them to the building in the 8800 block of Stanford Road around 7 a.m. Sunday.

There, they found a crack in the parking lot with a natural gas leak. Around an hour later, something inside exploded.

“I live about a mile away and the house shook,” Columbia resident Dennis Plouff recalled.

Miraculously, no one was inside at the time and no injuries were reported, but stores were turned inside out, roofing was ripped down and parts of the building crumbled into piles of concrete.

At a press conference Monday, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball vowed to rebuild.

As a community, we’re going to be doing everything we can to ensure that our businesses and the response to this damage is done with our collective resolve,” he said.

BGE officials said they inspected the gas lines just last month, and on Sunday, they checked them again.

“We cannot speculate on the possible causes yet, the source of the leak, or the ignition source,” said Aaron Koos, a BGE representative.

The cause of the gas leak remains under investigation.

Any business owners who need to get into their shops should make an appointment with the county’s emergency management office.

Kelsey Kushner

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