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Gas explosion levels Maryland shopping mall

By Darryl Coote
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Gas explosion levels Maryland shopping mall
Howard County Fire & Rescue Battalion Cheif Stephen Hardesty said that the building was "probably totalled." Photo courtesy of Howard County Government/Twitter

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- A natural gas explosion tore through a Maryland shopping center Sunday, leaving the building all but destroyed though no one was injured in the incident, authorities said.

The explosion occurred inside the Columbia building, some 26 miles southwest of Baltimore, before 8 a.m., Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said.

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"It was so powerful it could be heard in communities many miles away," Ball said.

The blast caused "significant structural damage" to the building and once the area is deemed safe an investigation into the explosion will begin, Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services said in a statement.

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Howard County Fire & Rescue Battalion Cheif Stephen Hardesty said, "the building is probably totalled."

Firefighters and paramedics were dispatched to the scene at 7 a.m. in response to a fire alarm sounding at the shopping center, but the emergency was quickly upgraded to a gas leak upon their arrival and they began evacuating the building and the surrounding area, the fire department said.

"Fortunately, because of their actions and because this happened on a Sunday morning when no one was inside the building, there are no reported injuries at this time," Ball said, adding that he has asked the county's economic development authority to aid businesses and workers affected by the blast.

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"We will do everything possible to minimize the impact of this explosion," he said.

Widespread power outages were reported in nearby areas, affecting local business, according to Howard County fire.

Baltimore Gas and Electric said in a statement that inspectors had not discovered any related issues in nearby buildings.

"As recently as July 2019 we performed a scheduled inspection of the gas main and equipment serving this area and found no issues," the company said.

BGE said it had a crew at the site in response to a call concerning a potential leak when the explosion occurred.

"BGE crews have turned off gas services and are currently working closely with the fire department," it said on Twitter. "Once it is safe to do so, BGE will investigate the cause of the incident."

Howard County said the blast damaged a nearby government building but all county offices and services will be open on Monday.

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