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Monroe Dusts Itself Off After Explosion Wipes Out Businesses

July 30, 1990

MONROE, N.C. (AP) _ Firefighters on Sunday hosed down the smoldering rubble left by an apparent gas leak explosion that gutted half a downtown block, and was heard up to eight miles away.

The explosion late Saturday night demolished at least eight buildings and shattered storefront windows nearly the length of Main Street. Six people were treated for cuts from flying glass, officials said.

Had the blast occurred during the day, many people could have been injured or killed, said Bobby Kilgore, chief of public safety in this town of about 13,000 people 25 miles southeast of Charlotte.

″It was really an awful experience,″ said Nancy Sarno, a nursing supervisor at Union Memorial Hospital. ″I was coming in to work just after the blast, and the area was just engulfed in flames.″

City Public Safety Chief Bobby Kilgore estimated losses at $500,000 to $1 million.

Officials believe there may have been a leak in a gas line that runs through the back of a clothing store where the 10:30 p.m. blast apparently occurred, said Mayor Lynn Keziah.

More than 100 firefighters battled the fire, which was contained by 1 a.m. and extinguished by dawn.

Aid stations treated 10 rescue workers at the scene for minor injuries, including smoke inhalation and dehydration, said Emergency Medical Service Director Horace Williams.

Police and agents from the State Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were waiting for the rubble to cool before looking for clues.

Union Memorial released five of the people treated for cuts, Ms. Sarno said. A sixth person was held overnight at the hospital, and was in satisfactory condition Sunday, she said.

″All the damage we got, we’re still fortunate that no one was badly hurt or killed,″ Kilgore said.

Frank Gruber, owner of the Place in the Sun health club, one of the damaged buildings, was nearby at the time of the blast.

″At first, it felt like lightning shook. It was three big jolts - every window was knocked out,″ he said.

″The flames were over 50 feet over the building,″ said Ms. Sarno, who saw the fire on her way to the hospital. ″It was quite a fire.″

Some buildings were completely leveled by the force of the blast, Kilgore said, while others were gutted by fire and will have to be torn down.

″It looks a little bit like machine-gun fire in there ... glass is everywhere,″ said Vicky Gulledge, owner of a portrait shop. ″There are shards of glass sticking in walls and doors.″

″I don’t think there’s a window left in town on Main Street,″ said Butch Tucker, who owns a jewelry shop across the street from the explosion site.

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