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Eight People Injured In Dallas Apartment Complex Explosion And Collapse

Side of collapsed building with debris spilling out and fire damage behind red don't cross tape.
Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News
According to the Dallas Office of Emergency Management, about 300 residents were displaced.

Four firefighters and four civilians were hospitalized after the explosion ripped through a building in a southeast Dallas apartment community on Wednesday morning.

The explosion at the Highland Hills Apartments was caused by a natural gas leak, according to Dallas police.

Residents of the the community called 911 shortly after 10 a.m. on Wednesday to report smelling gas.

The complex is located near Bonnie View Road and Simpson Stuart Road, a half-mile from Paul Quinn College.

“When our firefighters arrived, they went to investigate an apartment building near the entry gate in the complex where there was a strong smell of gas,”Jason Evans, a spokesman for Dallas Fire Rescue, said.

Not long after that, an explosion tore through the building, igniting a massive blaze and collapsing one side entirely.

Windows in nearby buildings were shattered and debris sprayed in all directions, some of it landing in an empty field across the street, dozens of yards away.

Paul Butler, who lives in an adjacent building in the complex, said he was feeding his baby at the time. He said it sounded like a bomb.

“The whole house shook,” Butler said.

After the explosion, Butler said he saw one firefighter who appeared to have been thrown across the courtyard by the force of the explosion and severely injured.

Butler said he and other residents fled the complex for fear of further explosions.

The Impact

The blast sent eight people to the hospital – four firefighters and four civilians.

Three of the firefighters remain in critical condition, according to Dallas Fire Rescue.

One firefighter was released Wednesday afternoon. Evans described the four civilians’ condition as stable.

Amid the charred wreckage, furniture, decorations and belongings from inside the 10 apartment units were visible.

More people sustained minor injuries, though exactly how many is unclear.

Marquez Wilson, a 14-year-old who lives in a different building in the complex, said the explosion blast shattered the windows in his family’s apartment, spraying glass.

“My mother was right [by the window] when it happened, and so she got hit by glass shards, and her whole leg was just bloody,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she was treated by paramedics and was okay.

The extensive damage and instability of the partially collapsed building made it impossible for the fire department crews to enter the building for several hours, according to officials.

A photo of a fire truck in front of a partially collapsed building.
Christopher Connelly/KERA News
The blast also launched a massive response and an ongoing multi-agency investigation.

Eventually, the fire department used drones to survey the wreckage and at least one dog to search for any remaining residents No one died in the blast.

After reviewing the damage, Mayor Eric Johnson said it was lucky that no one had died. The timing of the event may have helped: most children were at school and many adults had left for work.

“We’re very fortunate, so far,” he said, pledging that the city is, “going to take very seriously ascertaining the cause of this, and getting to the bottom of that and making sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Natural gas explosions have proved fatal in recent years. In 2018, a 12-year-old girl was killed when her family’s home exploded in northwest Dallas.

Atmos Energy, the natural gas company, knew about leaks in that neighborhood months before the fatal explosion.

No evidence has been presented to suggest the company could have prevented the explosion at the Highland Hills Apartments.

"Atmos Energy has verified that our system is operating as expected," the company said in a statement. "We have found no indication that our system was involved."

The Displaced

By midday, local organizations and neighbors had sprung into action, organizing to help displaced residents.

Community journalist Smash Da Topic began making call-outs on social media for donations of diapers, toiletries and other essential items to help people get through the next few days.

Olinka Green from the Highland Hills Community Action Committee rushed to the area to begin coordinating food and drinks and helping residents figure out where to go for help. She grew up in the neighborhood, she said, and knows that many people struggle to get by under normal circumstances.

“People got blown out of their homes. There is nothing, they have nothing,” said Green, who founded her organization to address the toxic effects of a nearby superfund site.

By the time children started arriving home at the end of the school day, the American Red Cross had already begun setting up a canteen to feed people and an emergency shelter at a nearby recreation center.

According to the Dallas Office of Emergency Management, about 300 residents were displaced.

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure anyone who needs shelter, who needs food, who needs water, who needs anything, gets it,” Mayor Johnson said.

Marquez Wilson said it seemed unlikely his family would not be returning home any time soon.

“I personally don’t ever want to go back [to the apartment],” the teenager said. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight because of this traumatic experience.”

The Investigation

The blast also launched a massive response and an ongoing multi-agency investigation.

Representatives from federal, state and local agencies joined dozens of police and fire department personnel on site throughout the day.

Atmos, the natural gas company, sent a fleet of vehicles and dozens of workers on site, as well as heavy machinery.

KERA reached out to the management of the Highland Hills Apartments, but did not get a response.

Domini Davis contributed to this report.

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Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.