by: KIRO 7 STAFF Updated:
NORTH BEND, Wash. - A massive explosion at a North Bend business destroyed three buildings and damaged several others, blowing out windows and doors.
Residents up to 5 miles away said they heard a large explosion Friday about 3:45 a.m. on East North Bend Way.
Eastside Fire crews quickly arrived at a strip mall and had the fire under control early Friday, but authorities went door to door at some nearby apartments because of initial concerns for additional gas explosions.
The strip mall where the blast occurred had a dance studio, barber shop, salon and a 76 gas station.
By daylight, a pile of rubble was all that was left of some businesses.
"It's very, very hard to wake up and everything you've worked for so many years is gone. Just, boom," said Michele Dunbar, owner of Cutters Hair and Nail Salon.
State investigators are trying to determine what caused the dance studio, which was being renovated, to blow up. The studio was formerly the home of Pizza Place. Residents noticed the studio was being renovated and was about to open as a restaurant again in a few weeks.
An administrator from the City of North Bend said the city had issued permits for improvements to the structure. One of those issued was a gas permit in late March. While work is being done, the city conducts inspections. The last inspection was a little more than two weeks ago, and inspectors found no code violations.
Initial reports indicate the blast was a natural gas explosion, but the cause may not be known for days, according to Eastside Fire.
About 75 firefighters responded after the explosion and subsequent fire. Eastside Fire said crews searched the scene and there were no victims found in the rubble.
Puget Sound Energy crews contained the natural gas and technicians conducted natural gas leak surveys of the area to ensure the natural gas system was safe.
The explosion also damaged neighboring businesses, breaking glass and blowing out doors. Five vehicles inside a Les Schwab tire shop were destroyed. Some of the building's roll up doors were buckled.
The damaged 76 gas station next door to the explosion site narrowly escaped the flames. The manager said a female employee saw the blast.
“She turned off the gas. She turned off everything and she called 911," said Ahmad Shekh.
Debris was strewn across several blocks and some was left hanging from power lines. At one point, power had been cut off to 1,500 residents.
One resident who contacted KIRO 7 said the explosion shook his house and triggered car alarms.
Another neighbor said she thought the explosion was a natural disaster.
“There was a big boom and I thought it was an earthquake,” said Linda Crosson, who lives 5 miles way from the scene of the explosion.
Fire officials reported some minor injuries in the area resulting from cuts from glass.