A possible gas explosion leveled a strip mall near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Saturday morning, injuring 23 people.

Store managers and owners at the now-destroyed Fountains plaza mall in Plantation told the Miami Herald that they smelled a strong odor of gas on Saturday morning before the explosion.

Graig Foulks, the manager of a Total Nutrition store next door to the vacant unit where the blast likely occurred, told the Miami Herald that he checked with Hiep Van, the cook at the Pho Brothers restaurant, which flanks the other side, to help identify the source of the gas odor.

Mr. Van immediately called TECO Peoples Gas to report the gas odor. He was on the phone with the gas company urging it to send a technician over when the building exploded. A spokesperson for the Peoples Gas told the Miami Herald that the company was in the process of dispatching a technician when the blast ripped through the mall.

The explosion was heard and felt for miles around. The force of the blast blew out the windows of cars and buildings in the vicinity, ripped brick from the sides of buildings, caused ceilings to collapse, and left debris scattered across the area.

Mr. Foulks told the Miami Herald that he and a friend ran from the building after the explosion, uncertain if there might be a second blast. Outside, they saw a man surrounded by first responders with shards of glass deeply embedded in him, lying in a pool of blood.

Authorities said the explosion seriously injured two people including one man who was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

First responders arrived at the scene to find people scattered across the debris field that stretched for a few hundred yards and encompassed other buildings. Rescue workers and others at the scene were surprised that nobody was killed in the explosion.

“We really, really dodged a bullet,” Plantation Fire Department Deputy Chief Joel Gordon said Sunday morning during an appearance on “This Week in South Florida.”

On Sunday, Deputy Fire Chief Gordon said that ground zero for the explosion was a unit that once housed a pizza chain restaurant called PizzaFire. He said that the state fire marshal’s office and other investigators are looking at city records as well as the actual damage to determine what could have happened inside the building, which was apparently undergoing renovations.

According to the Miami Herald, a Peoples Gas spokesperson said that its technicians “found no natural gas leaks” in their system. Firefighters at the scene reported a ruptured natural gas pipe, but it’s not yet clear how the line was damaged.

Deputy Chief Gordon said that authorities were unable at this time to confirm the blast was caused by natural gas because there are so many other factors that can go into what caused an explosion that to just get focused on one potential cause when there could be other less obvious causes.

The South Florida SunSentinel reported that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Broward Sheriff’s bomb squad are also investigating the explosion.

In premises liability claims, patrons of establishments are often injured because the premises, for some reason, was unsafe. Premises liability claims can take many forms, including when severe injury or death results when a building or structure collapses, merchandise falls, during swimming pool accidents, due to poor lighting, falling debris, unsecured fixtures and furniture that falls or tips over, unsecure drainage that creates drowning or fall hazards, slippery surfaces, and inadequate maintenance. Beasley Allen has successfully handled a number of premises liability cases, and we would like to investigate any cases where severe injury or death results. Lawyers in our Personal Injury and Products Liability section who handle these types of claims are Mike Crow, Ben Locklar and Warner Hornsby.

 Additional source: WPLG Local 10 Miami

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