CHICAGO (WLS) — The cause of a Chicago building explosion and collapse in the Austin neighborhood remains under investigation Wednesday.
“I’ve been asking the same question, I can’t imagine what it was,” property owner Roman Viere said.
The collapse and explosion Tuesday left eight people injured, including three seriously.
“It’s surreal,” Viere said. “Nothing could prepare you for a situation which we are dealing with today.”
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Viere owns the now severely damaged building.
“When I arrived on site and I saw the rubble all over the street and on top of that one car, it was just breathtaking,” he said. “You automatically think of a war zone.”
Fire officials said the blast happened around 9 a.m. on the top floor of the building, which is located at the intersection of West End and Central Avenue.
The blast could be felt blocks away. Debris from the explosion impaled a building across the street.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said James Fenton, who lives next door to the building that exploded.
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“When the building shook, I said, ‘what in the hell was shaking the building like that?'” he said.
The ABC7 I-Team found online records, highlighting a history of inspection failures and alleged code violations at the building, but Viere says, “Nothing that came up in any of those inspections would have had anything to do with what happened yesterday.”
As the sun shines on the belongings of tenants, now visible from the street, Viere says he is focused on making sure his residents are cared for.
“My heart goes out to them,” he said. “When I got home with my family last night we had prayers for them. It’s just devastating and we want to make sure we do what we can to help them out.”
The property owner also said his office is working with all of the affected residents to help them in securing housing.
He could not comment on if the building will be demolished.
ABC7 spoke with some of the explosion victims, who described those panicked moments after the blast.
Eric Hune was knocked clean off his feet.
“I just got up off the floor. I didn’t even see myself fall down. I got up off the floor and just ran straight out the door,” he said. “I woke up off the ground. I don’t remember hitting the ground. I just remember getting up and running.”
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The third floor hallway, he said, was a fog of chaos, a mix of disorienting panic, dust and doors blown off hinges.
“As I was running out they couldn’t see where to go, there was so much smoke, so they just followed behind me,” he said. “So many of us running out, I couldn’t count.”
A nearby church also served as a Red Cross shelter for displaced residents, providing them with food and a place to sleep.
Many fled the scene without cell phones, identification or medications.
“My foundation of my home shook like an earthquake,” said Ashunda Harris, who lives in an apartment a few blocks away. “I saw a cloud of smoke from the building. It was a foundation type of smoke, not like smoke from a fire.”
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