Authorities: Explosion at Florida shopping plaza injures 21 – WPBF West Palm Beach

A vacant pizza restaurant exploded Saturday in a thundering roar at a South Florida shopping plaza, injuring more than 20 people as large chunks of concrete flew through the air.

The blast sent debris flying along a busy road in Plantation, west of Fort Lauderdale in Broward County. The restaurant was destroyed, and nearby businesses were damaged.

Plantation Fire Battalion Chief Joel Gordon said there were at least 15 to 20 patients, two of whom were in serious condition, and there were no apparent deaths.

“It could have been tremendously worse,” he said.

A police sergeant later said at least 21 people were injured though none of the injuries was life-threatening.

Responders found an active gas leak when they arrived, but they were not immediately sure if that was the cause of the blast.

Responders are still searching the collapsed building.

Jesse Walaschek had just left the fitness club with his wife and three children, ages 4, 6 and 8. They were parked near the restaurant and had just driven about 50 yards (45 meters) away when they heard the blast.

“It was a massive explosion like I have never experienced,” he said.

Walaschek said dust and debris filled the air.

“Everything just stopped. You didn’t see anybody. I just wanted to get these guys safe,” he said, pointing to his children. “If this had happened a minute before when we were getting the kids in the car, it would have been really bad.”

“We thought it was thunder at first, and then we felt the building shake and things started falling. I looked outside, and it was almost like the world was ending,” said Alex Carver, who works at a deli across the street from the explosion. “It was nuts, man. It was crazy.”

The explosion hurled large pieces of concrete up to 50 yards away and sent pieces of metal scattering as far as 100 yards across the street.

Carver said two of his co-workers’ cars were destroyed.

It’s unclear if the mall was open at the time of the explosion. Gordon said the LA Fitness was occupied.

The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.

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