By Brian Johnson
A busy corridor in south Minneapolis was rocked Thursday morning by a natural gas explosion that shot flames high into the air.
The explosion at around 8:30 a.m. on 60th Street just east of Nicollet Avenue, forced the evacuation of nearby buildings – including a church, child care facility, and a school and homes — but no injuries have been reported.
In a statement released Thursday morning, Houston-based CenterPoint Energy said it has crews on site and is investigating, but the cause of the explosion isn’t yet known.
As a precaution, CenterPoint noted, emergency responders shut down Highway 62 and Interstate 35W.
“It was a small explosion and then just a big ‘woomph,’” Solem said. “The flames shot a good eight stories tall, instantly. We were two blocks away and you could feel the heat instantly on your face.”
Concerns that the extreme heat may have damaged a nearby overpass on the Interstate 35W forced the Minnesota Department of Transportation to temporarily close the highway in both directions, agency spokesman Todd Kramascz said.
The northbound lanes were reopened just before 11 a.m. Thursday, but the southbound lanes, which are closer to the blast site, remained closed while officials checked for damage. Scorch marks were visible on the road.
“We just want to make sure there is no structural damage,” Kramascz said.
Witness Len Slade said he was at the Cub Foods before the explosion and saw a black liquid spewing from the ground. It wasn’t immediately clear what that liquid was.
“It looked like when you see an oil well bubble up out of the ground, like when they strike oil,” he said.
Slade said he was in the doorway of the store, across the sprawling parking lot from the fire, when something ignited with a poof. He said the heat was so intense that he had to retreat into the building.
“You could feel the heat coming through the front door,” he said.
Slade, a vice president with Jerry’s Enterprises, which operates the store, said employees were evacuated soon after.
Bob Harris said he and his wife, Marilyn, didn’t hear an explosion. They were eating breakfast when someone from the fire department knocked on their door and told them to leave their home.
They joined a crowd of people walking away from the explosion area. Harris described the evacuation as calm and orderly, with the crowd mostly curious about what was happening.
Kiara Jones said a neighbor called to tell her she had to evacuate her home about three blocks from the blast. “You could feel the heat outside my house,” Jones said. “They said the manholes might blow.”
By late morning people were being allowed to return to their homes and stores, but the immediate area around the supermarket was still closed off.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.