Officials say the investigation is now ongoing after 12 people were injured in an apparent gas explosion that rocked an east Ottawa suburb on Monday morning, including two children and two people who were pulled out of the rubble.
The two kids were among six taken to hospital immediately after the explosion at an Orleans housing development, Ottawa Paramedic Services said. Two men suffered serious injuries, but all in hospital were in stable condition, paramedics said. Other injured people were released at the scene.
All people in the neighbourhood have since been accounted for, said Nicholas DeFazio, a public information officer with Ottawa Fire Services — with a city councillor for the area saying it’s a “miracle” more weren’t hurt.
DeFazio said Monday afternoon that the cause of the explosion was still under investigation despite firefighters initially saying that a gas leak was the culprit.
The blast occurred at about 6:18 a.m. local time and destroyed four homes that were under construction in a Minto Group development, said Ottawa deputy fire chief David Matschke.
Other houses in the development are already built and occupied, but police would not provide information about whether any residents needed to vacate their homes.
Police and firefighters also would not say whether the injured people included any residents of nearby homes, or whether any of the injured people were construction workers — though DeFazio confirmed that construction workers were on the scene at the time of the explosion.
Two people were caught under debris. The first was freed after firefighters used a chainsaw to cut through wreckage, with the fire service saying on Twitter that the individual was “stable and talking.”
About three hours after the explosion, firefighters said they rescued a second person who was trapped inside a collapsed home and “surrounded by a large amount of debris.”
Ottawa Fire Services said in a tweet late in the afternoon on Monday that it had been “a successful double rescue in extreme circumstances.”
Amy Bond, an inspector with the Ottawa Police Service, said the force was working with Ontario’s Ministry of Labour and the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal, which is now leading the investigation.
“It’s very early stages,” Bond said Monday. “The scene is quite large.”
Bond said that police will remain on the scene into the evening and possibly into Tuesday, depending on how the investigation unfolds. Representatives from Enbridge Gas were also on the scene but did not speak to reporters.
Orleans South Coun. Catherine Kitts called the explosion a “distressing event” for residents and said the Canadian Red Cross and Salvation Army were also providing help.
“Given the intensity of the blast, it’s a bit of a miracle there weren’t more serious injuries,” Kitts said.
Kitts said the Salvation Army and Canadian Red Cross were set up at the Minto Sales Centre on Monday, down the street from the site of the explosion, to help people who have been displaced.
Debris from the explosion could be found blocks away from the original site. Across the street from the development were broken windows and a dusting of pink insulation that began to blend into melting snowbanks.
Mana Karki, who lives nearby, said she decided to take the day off work because she was “still in shock.” Her garage door was destroyed in the blast, and her stairs were cracked.
“It was a big bang. Loud. I was freaking out,” Karki said.
Another resident, Mayank Sharma, said the explosion jolted him awake. He said he rushed to his children, who were crying about “the big bang.”
“We couldn’t figure out what the issue was. It was like like a bomb explosion, a plane crashed or someone banged into someone’s house,” Sharma said. “We just couldn’t figure out what it was until we started hearing things. And we saw a police car on our street, and I think we heard there was a gas leakage.”
Rows of police cars, fire trucks and ambulances had stretched across the road in the early morning. By noon, a majority of the emergency personnel had left the scene.
His friend Divya Suri, who also lives nearby, said the explosion left cracks in her home’s ceiling and walls and damaged her garage door. The fire service said the destroyed houses were under construction in the areas of 10th Line Road and Shallow Pond Place.
The homes were under development by Minto Group. The developer says it has a team on the ground to address the needs of the community.
Other model homes are being used as temporary shelter spaces for residents who have been evacuated, said Brent Strachan, the group’s president for Ontario.
“We are working with authorities to identify the cause of the explosion and fully co-operating in the investigation,” Strachan said in a statement Monday. “We will share more information as it becomes available. As always, safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with everyone affected.”
— With files from Lee Berthiaume.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Cindy Tran and Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press