Investigators say extensive damage to the scene of Saturday’s natural-gas explosion that rocked Harrisonburg has hindered their search for the exact origin of the leak and ignition source of the blast.
“We’re never going to know for certain,” said Michael Parks, city spokesperson. “We have to be able to know for certain that this is the ignition source, this is the leak [before announcing it]; and we see now we’re not going to be able to do that.”
With the fire marshal’s office concluding its investigation, what the city does know, however, is that the cause of the blast was a natural-gas leak and ignition somewhere inside the building, Parks said. City officials do not suspect any foul play.
Parks said the size and scope of the explosion that leveled the mini-mall on Miller Circle around 8:30 a.m. Saturday and the ensuing fire suppression efforts all contributed to the lack of finality in the probe.
According to Parks, Miller Circle will remain closed for the “foreseeable future” to allow business owners to begin recovery efforts.
Saturday’s explosion seriously injured two people. Parks said both victims were flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, but they are expected to be released any day. A call to U.Va. Medical Center on Wednesday seeking updates on the two victims was not returned. One additional person was taken to Sentara RMH Medical Center with less serious injuries.
Naza Salon and Barbershop manager Salwa Mahdi told the Daily News-Record on Sunday that two of the three victims hospitalized by the explosion were a barber and his client, whose names she could not provide.
I've been told by Police this looks like the result of an explosion in the small shopping center that included a barber shop, vape store and Hometown Music, as well as an international grocery and Blue Sprocket. pic.twitter.com/HD6JxjdcIB— Ian Munro - Daily News-Record (@iamIanMunro) October 17, 2020
The barber, she said, told her he smelled gas 15 minutes before the 8:30 a.m. blast on Miller Circle.
The victim treated at Sentara RMH was a James Madison University student, the school said in a Facebook post, and two other students — part of a roughly 30-person Army ROTC group running in a 10-mile race — were treated at the scene. The start-finish line for the race was located 30 yards from where the explosion took place.
The explosion didn’t result in any fatalities or any injuries to first responders from both the city and surrounding Rockingham County.
In addition to the barber shop, the shopping center housed Hometown Music, Element Vapors, Harrisonburg Halal Market and Sweets and Blue Sprocket Sound.
The building had an assessed value of $357,200, according to the Harrisonburg geographic information system, with the land assessed at $236,700 for a total of $610,000, including outbuildings and other improvements.
Neighboring businesses such as Bluestone Bike & Run, Wendy’s, Domino’s Pizza and Funky’s Skate House are closed, but their damaged buildings are standing.
The explosion shattered glass at those nearby businesses and bent the rink and collapsed the ceiling at Funky’s.