Gas explosion destroys office building in Columbia

The scene of a gas explosion in Columbia, Maryland, on August 25, 2019. (Courtesy Howard County Fire and Rescue)
A gas explosion happened at an office building in Columbia, Maryland, on August 25, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
A parking lot is taped off outside of the scene of a gas explosion at an office building in Columbia, Maryland, on August 25, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
A gas explosion happened at an office building in Columbia, Maryland, on August 25, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
Police and fire officials respond to the scene of a gas explosion in Columbia, Maryland, on August 25, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
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A gas explosion at a shopping center in Columbia, Maryland, caused the front of an office building to collapse on Sunday morning and shook homes and businesses many miles away.

Howard County Fire and Rescue reported the explosion just before 8 a.m. in the 8800 block of Stanford Boulevard at the Lakeside Office Building and shopping center.

They received a call around 7:30 a.m. with reports of a gas leak, according to Howard County Fire and Rescue. When they arrived on the scene, fire officials say that a crater in the road was emitting gas and transferring it into the building.

They worked swiftly to ensure that area businesses were evacuated prior to the explosion.

No injuries have been reported.

At a press conference on Sunday morning, Howard County Fire and Rescue Services Battalion Chief Stephen Hardesty said that the building is at risk of collapsing further.

He said that the building “is probably totaled” due to structural damage but could not comment further on the status of the building until further investigation.

Fire officials stated that they are working with the building manager to make sure that all of the businesses are notified.

Some surrounding area businesses and buildings suffered broken glass and tree damage from the office building exploding, Hardesty said.

Those living in the area of the Lakeside Shopping Center who smell gas are urged to call 911, Hardesty said.

Stanford Boulevard is closed at McGaw Road as Howard County Fire and Rescue crews as well as BG&E work at the scene.

A widespread power outage in the Stanford Boulevard and McGaw Road area was affecting area businesses, according to Howard County Fire and Rescue.

About 30 BG&E customers were impacted by the outage.

“It was so powerful it could be heard in communities many miles away,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball in a Facebook post on Sunday morning.

He said that crews responded to multiple reports of “hissing sounds” coming from a large crack in the parking lot of the building and quickly worked to ensure that the buildings were not occupied and that evacuations were not necessary and set up a perimeter.

We will do everything possible to minimize the impact of this explosion those who are affected by it,” Ball said. 

Gov. Larry Hogan thanked first responders for being on the scene within minutes. The governor said the Maryland Joint Operations Center and the State Fire Marshal have offered their full support and assistance.

“This massive explosion was felt in many of the surrounding communities, a shock to families across the area,” Hogan said in a tweet. “Thankfully, no injuries have been reported so far.”

Those who live and work in the area felt the explosion on Sunday morning as they were going about their daily routines.

“We live less than a mile away as the crow flies,” Kristin Wright who lives in Columbia off of Oakland Mills Road told WTOP in a text message. “It was loud! The whole house shook!”

Gary Inen, who works at Pub Dog Pizza and Drafthouse, located at the other end of the same shopping center, said that he was headed into work on Sunday when his phone started flooding with messages about the explosion.

“Everyone just starting messaging me because they knew that I was working today,” Inen said.

The alarm company also alerted them to the explosion. The restaurant was supposed to hold an anniversary party on Sunday.

“I was worried for a while because that’s our primary source of income for a lot of us and if that was gone then I didn’t know what we were going to do but it’s better that we’re only going to suffer for a few days,” Inen said.

Nayna Dave, who owns Apsara Day Spa in the strip mall next to Riverside Coffee, went to the scene of the gas explosion on Sunday morning after getting a call from one of her customers who was driving by the building who informed her that her building was on fire.

“I spent so much money to bring it up. It’s like two and a half years, plus you know you need to put a lot of time and energy and everything into your businesses,” said Dave, who runs three other locations of Apsara Day Spa.

She said that while her salon was destroyed in the explosion, she’s grateful that no one was injured.

“This can be built again but life cannot,” Dave said.

In addition to Pub Dog and Aspara Day Spa, the shopping center is home to Social Security Administration offices, Krav Maga Maryland, an Indian grocery store, a dry cleaner’s and Riverside Coffee, among other businesses.

A map of the area can be seen below:

WTOP’s Melissa Howell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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