March 6, 2009 in City

Natural gas explosion rocks downtown Bozeman

One missing; three buildings destroyed
Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Emergency personnel respond to an explosion on Main Street in Bozeman on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

BOZEMAN – One person remained unaccounted for after a natural gas explosion rocked downtown Bozeman on Thursday morning, collapsing three buildings, city officials said.

Assistant City Manager Chuck Winn said initially 11 people were unaccounted for after the explosion and fire that destroyed Boodles restaurant, the Rocking R Bar, Montana Trails Gallery, the American Legion building and Lily Lu’s children’s store.

“Through the work of the Police Department, we were able to account for nine of those people,” Winn said om a news conference. He later said a tenth person had been located.

The explosion happened at about 8:15 a.m. in the 200 block of Main Street.

Crews allowed the fire to burn into Thursday night because NorthWestern Energy was unable to completely shut off the natural gas. “There is still some blowing gas at the explosion site, but it is well contained,” said NorthWestern spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch, who anticipated the gas being shut off by midnight.

Winn, the former fire chief, said the rubble of the collapsed buildings was not yet safe to search. “There’s so much damage there and so much fire still that we cannot get our crews in,” to search the rubble, he said.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who attended an afternoon news conference in Bozeman, thanked those who responded to the scene. “The state of Montana stands ready to assist the community in any way we can,” he said, adding that he and his wife “send our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by the disaster.”

Witnesses reported seeing debris fly three times the height of the two-story building. Glass windows on downtown storefronts two blocks away were shattered by the blast.

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