Monday, March 28, 2011

Woodstock apartment blast leaves 2 still missing

Woodstock apartment blast leaves 2 still missing

 'We should be prepared for what could be a difficult day,' fire chief says after 5 located

Firefighters pour water on the apartment in Woodstock, Ont., on Sunday after an explosion destroyed the middle portion of the structure. Police originally thought up to 11 people were missing, but lowered that number to two by Monday morning. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Police have located five of the seven people who were unaccounted for after an explosion tore through an apartment building in Woodstock, Ont., but two remain missing.

Police were able to track down the five after going through a tenant list and setting up a hotline through the Red Cross, said Woodstock fire Chief Rod Freeman on Monday.

Seven people were also injured in the blast at the three-storey building at Victoria Street South and Henry Street , which exloded around 8:35 a.m. ET on Sunday, destroying the middle portion of the structure.

Freeman told reporters the expectation is there will likely be fatalities, though he declined to release details of the two who have not been found.

"Given that 24 hours have passed … we should be prepared for what could be a difficult day. But beyond that I could not speculate," he said.

Police originally thought up to 11 people were missing, but lowered that number to seven later Sunday afternoon.

"If you look at the devastation of the building, there's a frame left in some parts, but the rest has collapsed in on itself," said CBC reporter Steven d'Souza in Woodstock on Monday. "They're going under the assumption that those two individuals are most likely in the centre of the building where the building has completely collapsed."

The housing complex contained 45 units with about 100 residents, Freeman said. Most of them are now staying with family and friends or being housed at the local Quality Inn.

There is no further danger to the surrounding community as fire officials continue their investigation into the possible causes of the explosion, he said.

"I can't stress enough that right now we have an explosion and a fire, and we have no evidence to indicate anything criminal in nature."

Engineers were going through the building Monday to determine whether it was safe to enter, Freeman said.

'I don't expect anybody will be allowed in the building for quite sometime…. If you look at that devastation, it is not inhabitable right now."

D'Souza said there was a crew of at least 40 people there working around the scene, including firefighters, OPP, various utilities, as well as a canine unit with sniffer dogs.
30 firefighters tackled blaze

About 30 firefighters tackled the blaze and the Office of the Fire Marshal and Ontario Provincial Police were also on the scene Sunday.

CBC reporter Gary Ennett described the destruction as "unbelievable," with a third of the building "just gone."

"It's just rubble," he said. "There's no roof. It was blown right off, apparently, and all we have is piles of smouldering rubble."

Heidi Dantes, emergency room director at Woodstock General Hospital, said staff treated seven adults, most for minor injuries. Six of the seven were released and the remaining person's injuries are not critical, Dantes said.

One firefighter was treated for a broken leg.
Blast woke residents

Some residents told reporters they couldn't understand how an explosion could happen because the building had electric heat. Gas has since been shut off to all residents of Victoria Street, according to the Woodstock Sentinel-Review.

Jen Carr said she was awakened Sunday morning by a loud noise, and her house was shaking, so she went to the window.

"I saw ambulances everywhere, people running around," she said. "It was pretty crazy."

Maciej Podlesny, who lives about a kilometre from the building, was also awakened by the blast.

"It felt like a car hitting the house. The level of the flames which reached [an estimated] height of at least five or six storeys."
Building 'just engulfed'

Julius Wolf, who lives across the street from the damaged building, said he heard a "terrible explosion" and thought a car had driven into the house or a bomb had gone off.

"The apartment building across the street was just engulfed," he said.

Wolf said he saw a firefighter approach the collapsed part of the building to help a woman when a wall toppled over on him. The firefighter stayed and with the help of another firefighter got the woman out of there, Wolf said.

Debris was blown across the street, he said. The Salvation Army also set up a canteen at a nearby Via Rail station for emergency workers, while the Red Cross is set up at the Goff Hall community centre.

Len Murphy, president of the local branch of the Red Cross, said the agency would provide food, shelter and clothing for at least 72 hours.

Anyone concerned about loved ones should call the Red Cross at 1-866-280-1735.