COLUMBIA, Md — It was a gas explosion felt for miles. It nearly destroyed the entire shopping center off Stanford Blvd. in Columbia, leaving some business owners with nothing but questions.
Monday was a busy day, filled with clean up, inspections and recovery. Some of the owners of the 22 businesses impacted were able to start salvaging property if it was safe.
They brought backpacks, suitcases and carts to haul out as much property and documents as they could.
"We have computers. We have TVs. We have conference room equipment," said co-founder of BLEND360, Tim Berry. "Based on what I see, I don’t think we are going to be salvaging much but we are going to try."
Some, like Berry, were told they wouldn't be able to go in, because his business was housed on the second floor near ground zero of the explosion.
"We probably won’t be able to get there for at least a week or so and so now we are looking for Howard County to see what they can do to help us with space," said Berry.
Due in part to the timing of the blast, just before 8 a.m. Sunday morning, and the quick and thorough response of emergency crews, no one was hurt. Howard County Fire crews were dispatched to the shopping center at around 7 a.m. when a fire alarm started going off.
En route, they got calls from people in the parking lot who found an 8-foot crack in the pavement and heard hissing noises. When crews arrived, they found gas leaking and dangerously high levels of natural gas inside, so they evacuated the area and set up a perimeter just before the explosion happened.
No damage to people or fire equipment but the blast did shut down the entire shopping center until further notice. A center filled with local businesses like Riverside Coffee, Krav Maga Maryland, Pub Dog and Mango Grove.
Monday, crews inspected the structural integrity of the building to figure out where is safe to enter so some businesses could start the recovery process.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has mobilized a team to help those impacted, by finding temporary locations for businesses that can relocate and assisting employees.
"This is going to be a challenging time for all of us but I think that we can come together and mitigate those challenges, working with different property owners. Looking at, frankly, our inventory of properties and seeing how these businesses can survive this challenge," said Ball.
Gas and electricity are still shut off and BGE said they have completed safety inspections and found no issues with gas lines in the area. BGE officials said the last time they got a complaint about a gas odor at this center was in February 2018 and that was deemed a customer appliance issue. BGE spokesmen Aaron Koos also said they completed a scheduled inspection in July and found no issues.
The investigation into what caused the explosion is ongoing.