Shop Owner Was Told to Leave Before Blast, Fire Chief Says

Man was the only person killed in gas explosion
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 11, 2019 6:20 PM CDT
Coffee Shop Owner Was Told to Evacuate, Fire Chief Says
Emergency personnel search through rubble, Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Durham, N.C., the day after an explosion and building fire caused by a gas leak killed one person and injured more than two dozen, including nine firefighters.   (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

A coffee shop owner killed in a North Carolina gas line explosion was last seen in the doorway of his business after firefighters evacuated his customers and told him to leave, as well, the fire chief said Thursday. New details about what led to the death emerged as authorities raised the toll of people injured to 25, the AP reports, including nine firefighters. Durham Deputy Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi said eight more firefighters were treated at a hospital, in addition to the one who underwent surgery. All were expected to be released Thursday. Police said Kong Lee, 61, was the only person killed in the blast that leveled the century-old building. His coffee shop, Kaffeinate, was on the ground floor. A gas leak had been reported about a half-hour before the blast Wednesday, and firefighters were working to get people out of nearby buildings. A police spokesman has said a contractor boring along a sidewalk hit a gas line and caused the leak, but authorities are still investigating what made it ignite.

Fire Chief Bob Zoldos said firefighters told people in the shop to evacuate and got about 10 customers out, but Lee apparently lingered. Asked whether firefighters could have done more to persuade Lee to leave, Zoldos said time is short during an emergency and firefighters had to move on to other structures and make sure anyone in danger was told to evacuate. "We spoke with everyone inside his business, including him, and said that we were recommending evacuation of the structure, and we got everyone else out but him," he said. Describing evacuation procedures generally, Zoldos said: "With time of the essence, we don't make a major case for it. We go in and say: 'You need to evacuate the structure immediately' because of whatever the incident is. And that's what our people did." (A gas explosion in a Kansas City shopping district "felt like an earthquake."

(More explosion stories.)

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