Mall parking lot blast injures 9
Blast tears a 50-yard trench
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- An apparent natural gas explosion ripped a 150-foot-long trench through the parking lot of a shopping mall on Chicago's Southside Wednesday night, injuring nine people who were transported to area hospitals, according to the city's fire department.
All the injuries were moderate to minor, many of them caused by flying debris, fire commissioner Cortez Trotter said. Others were taken to the hospital as a precaution because they inhaled gas fumes.
The blast which happened outside a restaurant at the Ford City Mall around 8 p.m. (9 p.m. ET) sent pieces of a gas main flying through the air, shattered windows and overturned about a dozen cars. No vehicles appeared to have fallen into the wide trench, Trotter said. The few shoppers left in the mall were evacuated, and Trotter said those were the only evacuations.
The investigation into what caused the blast is still underway.
"The police department's on the scene, also investigating to ensure that this wasn't some malicious act but at this point they've determined that it was not, that it was merely a gas main explosion," Trotter said.
It is still unclear what could have caused the gas main to rupture; there was no construction or digging in the area, police and gas company officials said.
"Sometimes right after the winter, because of freezes and expansions and contractions of pipes, something can happen," Peoples Gas spokesman Rod Sierra said. "There may have been small crack for a long period of time that just built up. We don't know any of that until we get in that hole and take a close look."
The 20-inch medium pressure gas main, about six feet underground, was shut off after the blast, Sierra said. No residents were affected by the shutdown, he said.
Trench rescue workers and investigators waited late Wednesday for the gas to clear the lines so they can enter the hole and determine if anyone is trapped and begin investigating what caused the explosion.
"We don't see this very often," Sierra said. "Usually when a gas main leaks or blows it's because someone hits it."
One witness, who lives near the mall, said the loud blast "felt like a small earthquake."