A chandelier of suspended roof tiles hangs above the mosaic of glass shards and spackle spewed across the floor. Near the corner of South Main Street and Miller Circle is pure rubble, ashen and sopping from hours of effort to control the viciousness of Saturday’s blast.
“It’s awful,” said Salwa Mahdi, a manager at Naza Salon and Barber Shop, one of the businesses decimated in the explosion and subsequent three-alarm fire.
As Mahdi lay in bed alongside her husband sleeping in on Saturday morning, her world still made sense. At 8:30 a.m., she was awakened by a call from her father-in-law, who mistook the morning’s rippling tremors for an earthquake. Then, a flood of calls and texts began pouring into her phone. But one missed text message sent at 8:15 a.m. chilled her to the bone.
“I have a co-worker, someone who works for us. He texted me when I woke up. I looked at his text. He said, ‘I smell a lot of gases, I’m going to call emergency.’ That was 8:30 when I saw that text, and the explosion already happened,” she said. “When I went, I saw all this, and he and his customer was there, and they flew them to U.Va.”
On Saturday at around 8:30 a.m., the strip mall at Miller Circle erupted in flames after an explosion that shook Harrisonburg for miles.
Three people were hospitalized, with two flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville with life-threatening injuries, and one victim was sent to Sentara RMH Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, according to city officials. The two patients at U.Va. are stable, city officials said.
The victim sent to the local hospital was a James Madison University student, the school said in a Facebook post. Before the blast, a group of nearly 30 university Army ROTC students was running in the area, including the victim who sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
According to Mahdi, the two victims at U.Va. were a barber and his client, and she said the barber has not responded to texts or calls, but the police confirmed he is in stable condition.
“[Police] called me yesterday and said he’s OK. He has back pain and also his eardrum ruptured but thanks God he’s alive,” she said.
The barber shop, Harrisonburg Halal Market & Sweets, Element Vapors, Hometown Music and Blue Sprocket Sound lay in ruins. Neighboring businesses such as Bluestone Bike & Run, Wendy’s and Domino’s Pizza are closed, but their structures are standing.
“I’m kind of in shock, I think. I’m just shocked. It’s unbelievable,” said Joanne Wills, owner of Funky’s Skate House.
Two hours after the blast, a child’s birthday party was scheduled at Funky’s Skate House, but there were no balloons nor celebrations to be had. The blast bent the rink, collapsed the ceiling and blew out the glass. Wills said the building is under lock and key until an inspector can review the damage and deem if it’s worth saving.
“I’ve got two weeks to get it inspected to make sure it doesn’t need condemning or whether it’s safe, so that’s our job next week, to see if it’s worth saving or if it’s dead,” she said.
Wills bought the skating rink 12 years ago. Her son grew up spinning wheels at Funky’s, and she said the family decided to buy it after the previous owner put it up for sale. Meeting the kids and operating the business with her family was a joy, Wills said, and the sudden closure for the foreseeable future feels surreal.
“I’ll put it out of my mind, and it’ll come back. It’s like it’s not real, and then it pops in again,” she said. “If it’s not safe, it’ll probably be torn down and not rebuilt. I’m just grateful that it wasn’t worse than it was.”
Gordon Davies, a producer at Blue Sprocket Sound, watches the rampage of news flood his media pages from afar. He had thousands of dollars worth of equipment stored at Blue Sprocket, as well as decades worth of recorded work.
On Friday night, Davies drove to visit his family in New Jersey and waits in wonder of what, if any, of his work or equipment is salvageable from the explosion, fire and gushing water hoses.
“I had my hard drives with most of the music I had recorded over the past 20 years before I even got to Blue Sprocket,” Davies said. “It’s like losing a piece of your history.”
The explosion comes as a double-whammy to the Valley’s music world as it collapsed both Blue Sprocket Sound and Hometown Music, a musical instrument store. Damages to Blue Sprocket Pressing were less severe, and the business will resume operations later this week.
Davies said the console at Blue Sprocket was one of nine in the U.S. and under 20 in the world. Still, Davies said the strip mall was lucky the blast came when it did.
“What really gets me is this happened around 8:30 in the morning. If this happened three hours later at 11:30 in the morning, the story would probably be 70 people killed,” he said.
Bluestone Bike & Run owner Kyle Coleman lives in Mount Crawford and said he was in his garage and heard the door rattle after the explosion. He said employee and brand ambassador Nelle Fox was among the group of Army ROTC runners to witness the explosion and was the first to alert him.
Coleman said the blast burst through the deadbolted door and blew out the shop’s windows, but a building inspector said the building is stable, so the store will be back to business after a deep clean and organizing.
“The inside looks like someone picked it up and shook it and put it back down,” Coleman said. “It’s tough to hear about business owners having to go through this. 2020 has already been a heck of a year, and this was kind of a punch in the gut.”
In the wake of catastrophe, Coleman said the community has rallied in several ways to show up and help those impacted by the blow.
Several GoFundMe pages are available to support the owners and employees of the businesses impacted by Saturday’s explosion.
“It’s neat to see how the community has come together. For us, the other bike shops in town have reached out,” Coleman said. “In times of need, everyone comes out to help each other, so I’m grateful to the community for the offer of service and kind words.”