Worker calmly reveals gas leak in 911 call before blast

  • Emergency personnel work at the scene, 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) Gerry Broome

  • Charred remains are piled in a heap of 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) Gerry Broome

Associated Press
Published: 4/12/2019 5:23:34 PM

A worker calmly says, “We have hit a gas service” in an emergency call before the deadly gas explosion that leveled a North Carolina building, according to a recording released Friday.

The 911 recording posted online by Durham officials offers more details about what led to the explosion Wednesday that killed one person and injured 25. The Durham Police Department has said a contractor boring along a sidewalk hit the gas line, and permits show that fiber-optic cables were being installed underground. It’s not clear what made the gas ignite.

“The emergency is: We have hit a gas service ... probably need a little police presence until the gas company can get here to shut the leak off,” the worker says.

Referring to the leaking line, the caller says: “I don’t think it’s completely in two, but we can smell it.”

During the call about 30 minutes before the explosion, the worker gives the location as the address for the building that eventually collapsed. The recording doesn’t reveal the name of the worker or the contractor.

City spokeswoman Amy Blalock said the 911 call is the only one expected to be posted Friday, but more could be released in coming days.

Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson said Thursday that the permit to do work on a fiber-optic network was held by a subsidiary of communications company Crown Castle.

A copy of the permit shows the work included cutting into sidewalks to install fiber cable underground. A related document shows the path of the cable as a red dotted line through the sidewalk on the block where the explosion happened. The diagram indicates they were boring to a depth of 4 feet in some places.

Crown Castle issued a statement Thursday saying its subsidiary Fibertech Networks had hired a contractor that was installing fiber in the area prior to the explosion.

Asked about the 911 call, Crown Castle spokesman Harris Vaughn said Friday that he couldn’t comment further because of the ongoing investigation.

The blast leveled one building and damaged others , including some that have since been condemned. Twenty-five injured people were seen at hospitals, including nine firefighters.

Police said Kaffeinate coffee shop owner Kong Lee, 61, was the only person killed in the blast. The fire chief said that firefighters safely evacuated customers from the coffee shop and also told Lee to leave, but he lingered and was last seen in the doorway of the shop.

Lee’s son Raymond and daughter Diana issued a statement on the shop’s Instagram page thanking emergency workers and remembering their father for having “the biggest, purest heart out of anyone we know.” They said the last time they spoke to their father, he called to say he was closing because of the gas leak.

“He was going to close up and make a sign to put on our door in case anybody came by later,” they said.

They said he worked hard to provide for the family: “That means he often worked 12-13 hour days doing jobs no one else wanted to do.”

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