Tom Steele, Maggie Prosser, Hojun Choi and Catherine Marfin
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS — An explosion tore apart an apartment building in south Dallas Wednesday morning, injuring at least eight people.
Dallas Fire-Rescue was called about a gas leak at the Highland Hills Apartments on Highland Hills Drive in the Oak Cliff area about 10:20 a.m. When firefighters arrived, they could smell gas near one of the buildings. The blast occurred while they were investigating, Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said.
At least eight people, including four firefighters, were injured in the explosion, Evans said. Three of the firefighters were hospitalized in critical condition. The other firefighter and four people who were in the building all were stable.
Everyone in the building that exploded was accounted for, officials said.
Aerial footage showed heavy damage to one building at the apartment complex, with one corner of the two-story building destroyed and smoke wafting through a hole in the roof. Damaged windows could be seen on nearby buildings.
Evans said the western side of the building suffered extensive damage and charring from the resulting fire, making it too unstable for firefighters and first responders to enter and search thoroughly.
Evans was hesitant to call the blast a gas explosion, saying that investigators were still working to determine its cause. However, residents reported smelling gas in the area up to 12 hours before the explosion, he said.
Synicia Johnson was at home with her 17-year-old son in an adjacent building at the time of the blast.
”I heard the kaboom sound, and I ran outside to see what was going on,” she said, adding that she saw multiple people who had been injured. “It was like a horror, scary movie.”
Dashun Lawrence, who lives in a nearby apartment complex, said he felt a brick wall in the area rumble after he heard the explosion.
“I heard the boom, and I thought someone had crashed or something until I came over and I saw that the whole thing was on fire,” Lawrence said.
Mayor Eric Johnson, who arrived at the scene early Wednesday afternoon, said, “It looks pretty bad, it smells — it’s a serious fire.”
“Please pray for our firefighters and for the civilians who have been injured,” Johnson wrote in a tweet that called the explosion a “terrible situation.”
City Council member Tennell Atkins, whose district includes the apartment complex, said his office down the street was evacuated around 11 a.m. because of the explosion.
Atkins and Johnson said the city was working to get resources to residents who were displaced.
“There are a whole lot of residents who are probably in need right now,” Atkins said. “People who live in the apartment don’t have a place to go back to.”
About 40 residents of the complex, including children, were gathered under trees at the nearby Mountain Creek Apartments as community groups helped distribute food, water and baby supplies. The group had been there since 10:30, one resident said.
A spokesman for the Red Cross said his organization was setting up a canteen and working on reaching out to residents of the affected buildings.
Officials did not know how many people were affected by the explosion or how many apartments were damaged.
In a written statement, Philadelphia-based Mountain Creek Apts LP, which owns the complex, said it was “in the process of gathering information and awaiting the fire department’s report on the cause” of the explosion. Property managers were working to find accommodations for displaced residents, the statement said.
Officials with Atmos Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Between 2006 and 2018, more than two dozen homes across North and Central Texas blew up because of leaking natural gas, an investigation by The Dallas Morning News found. Nine people died and at least 22 others were injured in the explosions.
Among the victims was 12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers. Her family’s home in the 3500 block of Espanola Drive exploded in the early hours of Feb. 23, 2018, the morning after Atmos was investigating and repairing leaks on a street directly behind the house.
Atmos discovered 28 more leaks in the neighborhood in the days after the fatal explosion.
Federal investigators later found that Atmos had been aware of gas leaks in the northwest Dallas neighborhood for more than seven weeks before the explosion that killed Rogers.
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