HARRISONBURG, VA. – A James Madison University student said he felt the force of the explosion that leveled a mall and injured five people, including three JMU students, near downtown Harrisonburg on Saturday morning.
Matthew Jenkins, a sophomore student at the university, said he wasn’t scared long after he woke up.
“I just heard a loud bang and was thrown into my wall,” Jenkins recalled. “My head hit the wall and I thought something had crashed into the building, so I looked outside and … I saw a big mushroom cloud.”
I just made it to the site of an explosion that happened in Harrisonburg this morning. That’s what’s left now! City guides say 5 people were injured, but all are in stable condition. @ CBS6 pic.twitter.com/mQwm6CfB1r
– Matthew Fultz CBS 6 (@matthewfultztv) October 17, 2020
Harrisonburg officials said firefighters were dispatched to reports of an explosion along Miller Circle off South Main Street at around 8:30 a.m.
When firefighters arrived they found smoke and flames from several stores in the mall as well as two victims outside the building, said Harrisonburg fire chief Matt Tobia.
“There was a barber shop, a vape shop, a music studio, and a bakery,” said Michael Parks, Harrisonburg’s communications director.
Two people with serious injuries were flown to the UVA Medical Center. At the last check on Saturday evening, they were in stable condition, according to city officials.
Parks said it was not immediately clear whether these victims were linked to any of the center’s businesses.
Firefighters also said three JMU students were injured.
“You were here at the time and suffered minor injuries, likely from debris,” said Parks.
The university said in a Facebook post that the school’s three Army ROTC program students took part in a 10-mile race that injured them. The building where the explosion took place was about 27 meters from the start and finish lines of the race, the school said.
One of the students was hospitalized but should be released quickly, JMU said. Two other students were treated on site and, according to the mail, released.
The mall was a “total loss”, according to Parks, and damage was reported to other buildings.
My team and I are closely monitoring the situation in Harrisonburg following a gas explosion this morning.
First responders and firefighters are on site, and we have deployed government emergency personnel to provide additional support. Please avoid the area.
– Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) October 17, 2020
Although Governor Ralph Northam tweeted Saturday morning that state emergency personnel had been stationed in the area after a so-called gas explosion, Tobia said the cause is being investigated.
But officials said there was no evidence of foul play.
“So this is certainly unexpected,” said Parks. “And if we want to find out what caused it, we hope people keep an eye on things like this and take whatever precautions are necessary to ensure that similar situations do not arise.” t happen in other places in town. “