“It just feels like a bomb went off,” says a nearby resident of an early morning explosion in Seattle’s Greenwood that flattened businesses and injured nine firefighters.
This is an account of developments from the day of Wednesday’s explosion as they happened. This post is no longer being updated. Read the complete story from Wednesday here and see all our coverage of the explosion here.
What we know:
- Roads are closed near the intersection of North 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue North.
- Puget Sound Energy has shut down gas in the immediate area.
- Nine firefighters sustained minor injuries. All have been released from Harborview Medical Center.
- One building was flattened. Others nearby were damaged. Neighbors report feeling their homes shake from the blast.
Update, 2:14 p.m.
Mayor Ed Murray said 36 businesses were damaged, with the mostly broken windows. City officials pledged to assess the damage and help make the neighborhood, in Murray’s words, “whole again.”
Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said he was surprised firefighters didn’t suffer serious injuries. He said the protective gear they were wearing contributed, as did their decision to follow protocol by waiting for PSE to shut the leak for which they were searching at various locations.
Update, 2 p.m.
Andy Wappler, spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, said the utility typically inspects commercial and residential natural-gas lines every three years. He did not immediately know when the most recent inspection of the lines around the Greenwood explosion last occurred.
Update, 1:49 p.m.
Speaking during a news briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said the explosion has been ruled an accident. However, the cause is still not known and remains under investigation.
Mayor Ed Murray said the area suffered a “devastating disaster” and he asked residents for patience in dealing with road closures and impacts to area businesses.
“It’s going to take a lot of work to help these businesses become vital and vibrant again,” Murray said.
Update, 1:26 p.m.
Tim Pipes, who owns the Angry Beaver, a bar across the street, said he had just closed when the explosion ripped through his front windows.
“I was sitting at the bar, chatting with my bartender. We were so lucky,” he said. “The front windows all shattered, the top windows of the bar broke, bottles were flying off our shelves, pictures on the back of the bar blew off the wall.”
He says debris and flames shot into the bar on both sides, but the front door protected him.
A small group of regular customers and employees was inside the bar.
“Everybody was freaking out and headed to the back door,” Pipes said.
Manager Stephanie Ehrman, Pipes’ girlfriend, said the group was frantic once they got outside the bar.
“I kind of panicked. Three of us got out the back and Tim was not out there,” she said. “I tried to rush back in the bar, and one of the regulars physically held me back.”
Pipes emerged moments later. He’d gone to check that no one was in the bathroom.
The group hugged and talked to police, and Pipes invited everyone back to his house to wind down and have a beer.
A bar regular who had parked his new Dodge Challenger in front of the Angry Beaver found the car sliced up by debris and not undriveable, so he crashed on Pipes’ couch.
Pipes said he didn’t get to sleep until 7:30 a.m. “We were so ramped up from what happened,” he said.
“When I closed my eyes last night, I had this final recollection of this fireball. Something across the street happened, and next thing I know there was a massive fireball coming across the street.”
The group is wondering why the Fire Department didn’t warn them of the gas leak.
Earlier that night, Ehrman noticed a Fire Department SUV driving outside the bar.
“They had been circling the block and we had noticed. We were making comments about it: ‘What’s going on? Why are the lights flashing?’ ”
She said the group lost interest after a bit and figured it was something routine.
“Fifteen minutes later, just, boom,” Ehrman said. “That’s what we were concerned about. Once the dust settled and we were home, why didn’t they check in? They had to have known we were there — the lights were on. Why couldn’t they have said, ‘Folks, it’s time to go home, there might be an issue’?”
Update, 1 p.m.
Q13 has shared this footage with us:
Update, 12:29 p.m.
Theo Dzielak, owner of Couth Buzzard Books, attended a meeting city officials called for affected business owners.
He said officials are assessing the damage and mapping a strategy. Dzielak said it’s too early to know when his shop will reopen, though the only damage was to four windows.
He said he is “heartbroken this happened.”
The block is like “an old-fashioned neighborhood” in that it has no corporate shops and the small-business owners all know each other and are “tight-knit,” he said.
Dzielak, who lives three blocks away, said he woke to the sound and feel of the explosion and looked out his third-floor window to see “a huge orange glow and white paper cups raining down like snowflakes.”
Update, 11:47 a.m.
Surveillance footage from The Olive and Grape restaurant captured the explosion. Watch it here.
Update, 11 a.m.
When the explosion happened, a firefighter on duty put in an urgent call for backup.
“Battalion Six, I need a full response … I have firefighters missing!”
Update, 10:12 a.m.
Pipeline-safety investigators from the state Utilities and Transportation Commission are on site to investigate the cause of the explosion and fire. They will work with the Western region of the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Update, 9:52 a.m.
The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network was able to record the explosion as it traveled through the ground from one of the network’s stations in a nearby home, said Doug Gibbons, at the network’s seismology lab at the University of Washington. He said instruments are set up in a number of private homes and use a residence’s Wi-Fi to continually send data back to the lab.
The Greenwood blast was strong enough to trigger an instrument about 250 meters from the blast, but data from other stations has been requested and will be analyzed, Gibbons said.
The impulse of the explosion was measured at 3 percent of the actual force of gravity, he said, explaining that 100 percent of gravity would lift people off their feet.
Update, 9:39 a.m.
Sammy Arsheed, who owns Mr. Gyro with his brother, said he thought the gas leak came from outside his restaurant.
“Firefighters were outside the building trying to put the leak out,” he said.
Arsheed said his business was not doing renovations.
He said he and his brother had been in that site about 15 years.
He came to the restaurant at about 2 a.m. His first reaction: “How did this happen? How did this happen?”
Arsheed said he’s been on the phone with his insurance provider. His next step: “We rebuild, brother. Better than ever. This will not slow us down, friend.”
Update, 9:24 a.m.
Business owners Wednesday morning arrived in waves on Greenwood Avenue North, hoping to assess the damage, but police had restricted access to the blast area.
They described a tight-knit community that has transformed in recent years.
“We all love each other. We all frequent the businesses nearby. This is a really cool neighborhood. I hope it comes back better than it was before,” said Jenna Boitano, who runs Seattle ReCreative, a creative-arts nonprofit across the street from the blast.
She thought the windows of her building had been blown out and she was hoping to board them up, as rain started falling.
Chris Maykut, the owner of Chaco Canyon organic cafe, said he was hoping to figure out what he needed to do in the next 24 hours for his business. He operates three locations in the area, but his commissary kitchen is in Greenwood and provides food to the other locations.
“I need to get back in there today or tomorrow to get back up and running,” he said.
After a recent break-in, the small-business community rallied to help his business and held a meeting with North Precinct police to talk about security in the area after a 300-pound sage was stolen, Maykut said.
He said it’s been a tough stretch of bad events for his business.
“It’s tough to be a small-business owner and roll with the punches like this,” he said.
He said he was feeling devastated for the business owners who had their shops destroyed. “I can’t imagine this. If I looked at our business and saw it was rubble, I might just tap out.”
Ultimately, Maykut said he was relieved no one was thought to have died in the blast.
“If it had been at 2 in the afternoon, things would have been different,” he said of the busy street.
Update, 9:15 a.m.
The businesses that were destroyed were housed in two adjacent buildings — one built in 1910, the other in 1926 — that were purchased three years ago by a Seattle company called Greenwood Urban LLC, according to King County property records. The two buildings have a combined value of more than $2.2 million, the records say.
Update, 8:40 a.m.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray released this statement:
My thoughts are with the Seattle firefighters injured from last night’s explosion in Greenwood and I wish them a quick recovery. These men and women risked their lives this morning, as they do every day, to keep our community safe. I am grateful for their service and all of our first responders.
As the investigation and cleanup continues today, I ask that commuters along the corridor be patient. Please follow updates from the Seattle Department of Transportation and King County Metro on detours and alternate transit routes to keep people moving through the neighborhood and away from the scene during the investigation.
Greenwood is a close-knit neighborhood and an incident like this is felt by the entire community. I know neighbors will do everything they can to support these businesses as they begin the long and challenging task to recover and repair from this incident. The city will also be there to do what we can to help those affected with the clean-up and help local business owners as they work to get back on their feet and reopen their doors.
Update, 8:25 a.m.
Here’s what to do if you suspect a natural-gas leak.At top of list: Leave the area and call 911 and/or Puget Sound Energy.
Update, 8:05 a.m.
All nine injured firefighters have been discharged from Harborview Medical Center.
Gas service to the affected buildings was shut off at 2:48 a.m. Puget Sound Energy then expanded the gas-supply shutdown to include the surrounding block. All six valves were shut down as of 7:28 a.m., according to PSE spokeswoman Akiko Oda.
It is a “reasonable assumption” a gas leak is to blame for the explosion, but a full investigation could take days or weeks, said Puget Sound Energy spokesman Andy Wappler.
A leak-survey team has been on site, taking readings as a safety precaution. Testers have not found evidence of more gas traveling elsewhere in the neighborhood.
It’s not clear whether the leak was inside or outside the buildings involved, or where the ignition occurred.
Update, 7:40 a.m.
All the firefighters are expected to be released from the hospital this morning. There are no reports of deaths or other injuries, although search teams are expected to sift through the rubble later this morning.
Update, 7:20 a.m.
Update, 7:07 a.m.
Update, 6:48 a.m.
Nearby resident Erica Jorgensen, 45, said she heard a big boom and thought it was an earthquake.
“It’s such a tight-knit neighborhood. This is awful. These are all small businesses,” she said. “This is nuts.”
She said her daughter takes a bus on North 85th Street to get to school.
“I’m feeling fortunate this didn’t happen during the day,” she said. “My daughter could have been killed.”
Update, 6:39 a.m.
David Giugliano, who owns G&O Cyclery, a bike shop next to the businesses destroyed in the blast, said the remnants of the Neptune Cafe were stuck to the side of his shop.
“I don’t know how bad it is,” said Giugliano, who is known as “Davey Oil.”
“I just feel terrible for the neighborhood. I love this block.”
Giugliano, who lives about four blocks away, woke up to the blast and got there within 15 minutes. He could see flames about 20 feet in the air.
“It just feels like a bomb went off,” he said.
He said the businesses had been transforming the neighborhood.
“It’s just so sad,” he said.
Update, 6:33 a.m.
Bryan Howard, a Q13 FOX TV photographer, was waiting to talk to a fire battalion chief about the gas-leak call on the corner of North 84th Street and Greenwood Avenue North, when the building exploded.
“I started running … Debris was falling from the sky,” he said.
His camera somehow remained upright, although a piece of Sheetrock was sticking out of its rain covering, he said.
He’s keeping the piece of drywall to remember “the day I almost died,” he said.
“I had so much adrenaline as soon as it went off,” Howard said. “I had my camera rolling.”
Howard saw several firefighters who were injured, including one with cuts on the back of his head and blood on his face.
He said he got a bit shaky after adrenaline wore off, but stayed to document the scene.
Update, 6:27 a.m.
The storefront windows of nearby Chocolati Café were blown out, and workers are boarding them up.
“This is the main strip. It’s definitely going to affect people,” said Darla Weideman, 34, cafe manager.
The cafe set up a table with coffee for first responders.
“We got our problems, but you never think of a gas explosion (in Greenwood) — that’s the last thing you think of, and the most dramatic,” she said.
Update, 6:12 a.m.
The public should stay away from the area of Greenwood Avenue North and North 85th Street, although there does not appear to be any immediate danger, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said.
Greenwood Avenue North is closed from North 87th Street to North 84th Street, and North 85th Street is closed from First Avenue Northwest to Dayton Avenue North.
Two of the nine injured firefighters have been released from Harborview, Scoggins said.
“We know, as firefighters, this is a very dangerous job,” he said.
Gas is still leaking at the site near the flattened Neptune Cafe, and Puget Sound Energy is cutting through asphalt to get to the valve. A PSE spokesperson at the scene said the company would provide technical support to the Fire Department as they investigate.
Update, 5:40 a.m.
The fire is not out, and firefighters are spraying water on the remnants is a block of buildings on Greenwood Avenue.
Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Corey Orvold said a coffee shop, restaurant and convenience store were damaged.
Update, 5:20 a.m.
Larry Wells, 57, lives three blocks away. He said he heard “this huge explosion” and that his girlfriend “felt the building shake a little bit. She felt it rattle.”
Wells works as an accountant in downtown Seattle. “I guess I’ll take a different route into work today,” he said.
Original post, 4:17 a.m.
Seattle firefighters were about 40 minutes into investigating a reported natural-gas leak near Greenwood Avenue North and North 85th Street when an explosion flattened multiple buildings in the area.
Eight firefighters and one battalion chief were taken to Harborview Medical Center with minor injuries, Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Corey Orvold said.
The 1:40 a.m. explosion shattered windows at nearby businesses. Neighbors reported that the sound and resulting shaking woke them up.
This post will be updated.