Eight people were hospitalized on Tuesday morning after a sudden explosion shook a residential apartment building in Chicago’s South Austin neighborhood and showered the street with bricks and other debris.
At least three of the people transferred from the scene to local hospitals had serious or critical injuries, officials said. Two of the victims are female, while the other six are male, according to the fire department. One victim was in a building across the street from the explosion when it happened, Deputy Fire Commissioner Marc Ferman said during a press conference.
Fire officials originally confirmed the explosion in a tweet around 9:45 a.m. local time. At the time, they noted that the four-story residential building and adjacent building were being evacuated. Ten ambulances and 135 first responders were called to the scene, Ferman said.
Photos and videos shared to Chicago Fire’s Twitter page showed the explosion had destroyed the windows along at least one side of the apartment building and damaged part of the structure itself. A large pile of debris covered the sidewalk in front of and around the building, with more scattered across the street.
Shannon Nelson, a woman who lives nearby, toldshe was lying in bed at the time of the explosion.
“My bed shook almost like an earthquake,” Nelson said.
Fire officials said in their most recent post that the building had been searched thoroughly and no one else was inside.
Speaking to local reporters later on Tuesday, Ferman said officials would continue to conduct a final sweep of the building. He added that the department was “confident” the structure was already clear, although the fourth floor was “compromised.” Ferman noted that the air quality in the surrounding area was “good.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot thanked the fire department and department of buildings for their coordinated response to the collapse, as they worked to determine what caused the explosion.
“My thoughts are with those who were injured and displaced in the building collapse in the Austin neighborhood,” Lightfoot tweeted. “We must also thank the brave men and women of the Chicago Fire Department who are working to abate the dangerous conditions. I am closely monitoring the events and both the Chicago Fire Department and the Department of Buildings are onsite at the collapse. We will provide updates as the situation develops.”
Personnel from the fire department’s bomb unit as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were involved in the response, according to fire officials.
The cause of the explosion is still unknown and remains under investigation, but the apartment building had failed annual inspections repeatedly over the last 12 years, and received citations in 2017 and 2018 for “failing to repair or replace defective or out of service smoke detectors and operate continuously,” CBS Chicago reported.
Peoples Gas, the provider that services the apartment building, turned off the gas after the explosion on Tuesday. The company said that, so far, there was no evidence to suggest a gas-related issue caused the incident, according to CBS Chicago.
The building’s owner, Roman Viere, said in a statement, “This is a devastating event and we are heartbroken for all of our residents.”
“Our first concern is the health, well-being and safety of our residents. We are doing everything we can to cooperate with emergency services, and we are ready to do whatever we can to support our residents,” Viere added, according to CBS Chicago.