Harrisonburg, Virginia was rocked today — Oct.17, 2020 — when an explosion happened at a shopping center. There have been at least five people injured by the suspected gas explosion. Three of those injured were students from James Madison University (JMU) — out on a field trip.
The injuries sustained by the students were minor, two of which were treated at the scene. The other victims were taken to the hospital and are expected to be released shortly. Two of the victims were taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
According to the spokesperson for the University, Caitlyn Read, there were 30 people affiliated with JMU’s ROTC program participating in a U.S. Army Ten Mile Run. The finishing line for the race was near the sight of the explosion.
Michael Parks, a spokesman for the city, stated that the explosion — which turned into a fire — happened around 8:30 a.m. EST. The shopping center is located off of South Main Street and Miller Circle.
By the time firefighters arrived at the scene, the two-story strip mall was engulfed in flames. One of the witnesses, JMU student Jaren Billups, stated that he heard a loud bang before the shockwave hit him.
Billups said the shockwave felt like a vehicle had struck his townhouse. Upon walking outside to see what happened he could see a billow of smoke in the distance.
First responders needed to call in a second and third alarm to assist with the fire. In addition to the Harrisonburg police and fire departments, reinforcements were called in from the Virginia State Police, Harrisonburg Rescue Squad, and the fire departments from Broadway, Bridgewater, and Rockingham.
According to Parks, authorities searched the entire complex and no other victims were located. Unfortunately, the fire destroyed most of the complex. Firefighters had to rip down the last wall standing to extinguish the blaze.
Governor Ralph Northam announced on his Twitter page that the state of emergency crews had been deployed to the area. He then claimed it was due to a gas explosion, however, he had no solid proof of that at that time.
Harrisonburg is located roughly 130 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Almost four hours after the explosion, firefighters had contained the fire. The area is still considered as active due to the hot embers.
Authorities are still investigating the explosion. City Fire Chief Matthew Tobias has ensured the community that there are no immediate concerns for any additional explosions.
Shortly after the explosion, videos and photographs started appearing all over social media. Many of which showed the devastating plumes of smoke billowing from the area.
A local city councilman, Christopher B. Jones, told NBC that he felt the blast from the explosion from his bed — located roughly a mile and a half away.
Our kids came running down the hallway. My wife came running back up the steps. The entire bed shook and rattled, and that’s on the third floor of my home, which is completely brick…
Tobias is only one of the many individuals in the surrounding area to tweet being able to feel the repercussions of the explosion. Some of these people were a couple of miles away from the blast.
Written by Sheena Robertson
The New York Times: At Least 3 Injured in Explosion at Virginia Strip Mall; Christina Morales
Richmond Times-Dispatch: UPDATE: 5 hurt – including 3 JMU students – in blast at Harrisonburg shopping center near finish line for race; Abby Church
NBC: Explosion in Harrisonburg, Virginia, sparks fire, leaves 2 with life-threatening injuries; Minyvonne Burke and Shamar Walters
Featured Image Courtesy of Sam PH’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Rachel Clarke’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License