Otis Manning was watching television Tuesday morning, about to go to work, when a blast tore through the top floor of the apartment building across the street.
“All of a sudden, I hear boom,” he said. “My heart almost shot out of my body. I saw windows busted open, I saw debris.”
At least eight people were injured in the blast around 9 a.m. near West End and Central avenues on the West Side, collapsing the top floor of the four-story building and filling the street with dust, bricks and debris.
Roughly three-fourths of the windows in the building were shattered. A Nissan sedan parked in front of the building was covered in pieces of brick, its windshield shattered.
People ran in every direction, some screaming they had loved ones inside as police urged them to get back in case there was another explosion, according to witnesses. The cause of the blast remains unknown.
Ten ambulances were called, and at least eight adults were transported to hospitals, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford:
- Two men were taken to Loyola University Medical Center, one in serious to critical condition and the other in fair to serious condition, fire officials said.
- A man was taken in serious to critical condition to Mount Sinai Medical Center. A man and a woman were also taken there, both in fair to serious condition.
- A woman was taken to West Suburban Medical Center in fair to serious condition.
- Two men were later transported to Stroger Hospital, one in fair to serious condition and the other in serious to critical condition.
One of the victims was in the building across the street, Deputy Fire Commissioner Marc Ferman said in a news conference at the scene. He said the injuries ranged from burns to trauma.
The top floor of the building was “compromised” but crews were confident they got everyone out, Ferman said late in the morning as emergency crews conducted their final searches.
Nearby buildings were evacuated and also searched, Ferman said.
The Chicago Police Department’s bomb unit was called to the scene. Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also assisting, fire officials said.
“No one knows what the heck caused it,” Langford told the Sun-Times.
Keir Conner said she was taking her 3-year-old nephew Eric Parker to school at the time of the blast.
She was driving north on Central in a Buick Enclave SUV when the explosion lifted it up and moved it from the left lane all the way over to the parking lane, just a foot from the curb, and littered the street with debris.
The air was filled with dust and shattered brick. She said she could not have driven further if she’d wanted to. The SUV was still where it had ended up, surrounded by debris.
“I got him out of the car, and I started running because I was thinking of a second explosion,” Conner said. “It was beyond loud. I’m still hearing ringing.”
Shannon Nelson, 34, and boyfriend Brice Collier, 35, live in an apartment building across Washington from the site of the explosion. Their whole building shook, they said.
“I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, and everything in the bathroom fell,” Collier said. “I thought it was an earthquake.”
Nelson was in the bed, which bounced off the floor.
“It felt like a terrorist attack. That’s what popped into my head instantly. You only see this stuff on TV,” said Nelson, adding that she could smell a very strong odor of gas. “It was so strong. Your nose is burning,” she said.
Terrill Townes lives nearby and rushed over because his child goes to school not far from the apartment building. “I heard the explosion from two blocks away,” Townes said. “It sounded like a bomb.”
The building at 5601 W. West End Avenue is owned by West End LLC and managed by Urban Alternatives.
“This is a devastating event and we are heartbroken for all of our residents,” building owner Roman Viere said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to cooperate with emergency services, and we are ready to do whatever we can to support our residents.”
The Department of Buildings had not received any recent inspection requests, according to officials. The building has been cited in the past but none of the violations would have “contributed to an explosion or structural failures,” according to the the department.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot released this statement: “My thoughts are with those who were injured and displaced in the building collapse in the Austin neighborhood. We must also thank the brave men and women of the Chicago Fire Department who are working to abate the dangerous conditions.”
Officials said they did not know how many residents had been displaced by the explosion.