Explosion at Florida shopping plaza injures at least 21

A vacant pizza restaurant exploded Saturday with a thundering roar at a South Florida shopping plaza, injuring at least 21 people as large chunks of concrete flew through the air.

The blast sent debris flying along a busy road in Plantation, about 11 kilometres west of Fort Lauderdale in Broward County. The restaurant was destroyed, and nearby businesses and cars were damaged. Though firefighters found ruptured gas lines afterward, authorities said it was too early to determine a cause.

“We thought it was thunder at first, and then we felt the building shake and things started falling. I looked outside and it was almost like the world was ending,” said Alex Carver, who works at a deli across the street from the explosion. “It was nuts, man. It was crazy.”

The blast scattered large pieces of concrete as far as 45 metres away and sent pieces of metal as far as 90 metres across the street. Carver said two of his co-workers’ cars were destroyed.

At least 21 people were injured though, none of the injuries were life-threatening, Police Sgt. Jesica Ryan said.

The explosion demolished the building, leaving behind only part of its metal frame. The restaurant, called PizzaFire, had been out of business for several months. The blast also blew out the windows of a popular fitness club next door at the shopping plaza in Broward County.


The blast scattered large pieces of concrete as far as 45 metres away and sent pieces of metal as far as 90 metres across the street. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

Jesse Walaschek had just left the fitness club with his wife and three children, ages 4, 6 and 8. They were parked near the restaurant and had just driven about 50 metres away when they heard the blast.

“It was a massive explosion like I have never experienced,” he said.

Walasheck said dust and debris filled the air.

“Everything just stopped. You didn’t see anybody. I just wanted to get these guys safe,” he said, pointing to his children. “If this had happened a minute before, when we were getting the kids in the car, it would have been really bad.”


At least 21 people were injured, though none of the injuries was life-threatening, Police Sgt. Jesica Ryan said. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

Dozens of firefighters responded and could be seen picking through the rubble with dogs sniffing through the debris. There were no known fatalities, police officer Chavez Grant said immediately after the explosion. 

Fire department Battalion Chief Joel Gordon said there were ruptured gas lines when firefighters arrived, but he couldn’t say for certain that it was a gas explosion.

“At this point, nobody was killed. Thank goodness for that. As bad as it is, it could have been a lot worse,” Gordon said.

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