Hales: ‘Excellent’ work by explosion first responders

"There are a lot of people alive right now who... might not have been"

Mayor Charlie Hales speaks at a press conference following an explosion in NW Portland, October 19, 2016. (KOIN)
Mayor Charlie Hales speaks at a press conference following an explosion in NW Portland, October 19, 2016. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Mayor Charlie Hales surveyed the scene in Northwest Portland after a gas explosion demolished a building, injured 8 and caused untold damage in the area Wednesday morning.

The mayor commended firefighters and other first responders for a job well done during an afternoon press conference alongside Portland Fire & Rescue.

“There are a lot of people alive right now who, in a situation like this, might not have been [if it weren’t] for really excellent work by our first responders,” Hales said. “Their good work today has been noticed.”

Hales said he was in a city council meeting when he got a text about the explosion at NW 23rd Avenue and Glisan Street. Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Portland Fire Bureau, immediately left to go to the scene.

A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)
A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)

Although several were injured, Hales said the incident could have been a lot worse.

“This is NW 23rd Avenue on a nice day with hundreds of people obviously within range of the incident,” he said. “Firefighters took the brunt, but they’re going to be OK.”

Crews picked through the rubble to ensure no one was trapped inside.

Hales said Chapman School and the Metropolitan Learning Center were affected by the blast. Students were evacuated out of an abundance of caution, PPS spokesperson Courtney Westling said.

“To my eyes, so far, everybody is doing a good job coordinating,” Hales said. “I want our injured firefighters and injured police officers to heal up, physically and mentally, and to go back to work for this community knowing they’re appreciated.”

Witnesses recall explosion: “We heard and saw these huge booms”

The Red Cross responded to help those affected by the gas explosion, and volunteers were able to offer more than just help cleaning up.

A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)
A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)

“We’re also able to provide some emotional support. Our volunteers are also trained to give psychological aid so they can aid people who have been impacted by disasters to help not only with their physical needs, but their emotional needs,” Red Cross spokeswoman Monique Degaw said.

Degaw talked about how amazing it was to see so many people rushing in to help those affected by the gas explosion.

“As awful as it is to see people impacted by this disaster, this truly is a situation of neighbors helping neighbors,” she said.

PF&R Chief Mike Myers said he hadn’t seen devastation like this in his 28-year career.

“If it wasn’t for the efforts of a few firefighters today, and a very special leader in our organization who made some very serious and very important decisions, I’m afraid we’d be having a different discussion,” Chief Myers said.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, NW Natural said the explosion happened after a contractor dug into one of its gas lines at 500 NW 23rd Avenue.

Firefighters were inside investigating the reported gas leak when the blast happened.

Officials are working to determine what caused the ignition.