2019 Durham gas explosion
|Date||April 10, 2019|
|Location||115 North Duke Street, Brightleaf, Durham, North Carolina|
|Cause||Accidental gas leak|
|Property damage||Destruction and collapse of buildings located at 111 and 115 N. Duke St, damaged vehicles including Porsches, windows shattered in and around Brightleaf District|
On April 10, 2019, a gas explosion occurred near downtown Durham, North Carolina at the 115 block of North Duke Street in the Brightleaf District. The blast destroyed several buildings and damaged dozens of others, killing two people and injuring 25 others, including 9 firefighters. City officials have cited a gas leak to be the cause of the blast.
On June 22nd, 2020, four separate lawsuits were filed in relation to the explosion. Each lawsuit represented separate victims of the blast, including one of the two deceased.
The explosion occurred at a local coffee shop by the name of Kaffeinate. The store was run by shop owner Kong Lee and his family.
At 9:38 am, firefighters responded to a call of a potential gas leak near the Kaffeinate shop. Many witnesses reported the smell of gas prior to the explosion taking place. Durham officials stated that they evacuated eight to ten people from the coffee shop prior to the blast. The leak was reportedly caused by a gas line being breached by contractors with valid work permits.
At 10:07 am, an explosion was reported near downtown Durham.
The damage was widespread, as businesses roughly two blocks away suffered damage although this was mostly limited to shattered windows. Fifteen buildings suffered damage in and around Brightleaf. The coffee shop, Kaffeinate, was reduced to rubble as a result of the blast. An adjacent building holding a Porsche collection was destroyed. An office building directly in front of the coffee shop suffered extensive damage to its interior and exterior. The explosion could be felt several miles away, and a large smoke cloud from the resulting fire could be seen from miles away — this smoke cloud also showed up on weather radar.
The Durham School of the Arts suffered damage to its interior, although no injuries were reported.
25 people were treated for injuries and at least 10 people were sent to local hospitals. Duke Regional Hospital and Duke University Hospital each received 5 patients. Kong Lee, the owner of Kaffeinate, was killed in the blast while preparing to evacuate the store. Jay Rambeaut, a Dominion Energy first responder, was sent to UNC Medical Center, where he died from his injuries on April 25.
Five of the injured were in critical condition. Nine of the 25 injured were responding firefighters. One firefighter suffered major injuries and underwent surgery. Vincent E. Price, the president of Duke University, confirmed that 10 Duke employees were injured in the explosion.
Passersby Jason Sholtz, rushed to the scene quickly after the explosion, seeking to help the injured, while others helped motorists who were trapped in their cars by inflated airbags. City firefighters soon began arriving to fight a fire triggered by the explosion. Once the blaze was extinguished, a search-and-rescue effort began; it continued until the evening of the following day.
Following an investigation, officials in the Durham Fire Department released a report which determined that a three person crew from Optic Cable Technology digging horizontally to install underground cables breached a 3/4 inch gas line in front of Kaffeinate on the morning of the explosion. Shop owner Kong Lee went outside to complain about the gas smell – the report includes images from a nearby security camera that shows Lee waving his hand in front of his nose as he talked with the crew – but there was no evidence that Lee or anyone from Optic Cable called 911 to report the gas leak. The report was unable to determine what ignited the estimated 46,000 cubic feet of natural gas that leaked out of the ruptured pipe in the roughly 60 minutes from the initial breach to the explosion at 10:06 am.
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- "'He had the biggest, purest heart.' Coffee shop owner's children pay tribute to their father". News & Observer. April 10, 2019. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
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- "Raleigh law firm sues 8 companies in deadly downtown Durham gas explosion". News & Observer. June 22, 2020. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
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- Vaughan, Dawn (April 25, 2019). "Utility worker injured in Durham gas explosion has died". The News & Observer.
- "'Frightening and sad day': Duke employees injured in Durham explosion, President Price says". Duke Chronicle. April 10, 2019. Retrieved April 12, 2019.