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Gas leak on Northwest 23rd leads to explosion

Wednesday, Oct. 19 began as any average day for the small shops located along Northwest 23rd Avenue. Bagel Bros., a local favorite in the neighborhood, called to complain about the smell of gas at around 9 a.m. after an unknown construction worker ran in and told them his team had hit a gas line.

Within the hour, firefighters showed up to the building located on Northwest 23rd and Glisan and managed to evacuate the building quickly by pulling the emergency alarms. By that point, the buildings around the blocks had been evacuated as well due to the construction worker’s warning. Moments later, witnesses say they heard two major explosions.

Interview with witnesses. Martin Pantoja/PSU Vanguard

“I was in Washington Park, and I felt the ground shake,” said a bystander who preferred to remain anonymous. In fact, multiple members of the community shared their own personal experiences on the day of the incident.

Of the eight victims, three were firefighters and two policemen. The brave men were heavily praised for their courageous act that saved many lives.

Though there were no fatalities, Peter St. John with Portland Fire and Rescue suffered multiple injuries after he was shot 20 feet in the air by the blast. St. John is now recovering from a broken femur and tibia on his left leg and a broken fibula on his right leg.

He refuses to acknowledge any praise for his courageous act claiming, “It’s our job. We’re to go in and protect the citizens, and that’s what I did.”

The community will slowly recover, not just from the physical destruction left by the explosion but also from the psychological scars. “Twenty-third is a big area and popular with tourists, so I hope they can get it back up again soon,” said bystander Justin Rossman.

The demolished building also housed the popular Dosha Salon Spa, which had been remodeled and reopened recently due to last year’s flooding. The apartments located above both shops are also uninhabitable now; all that remains now is the skeleton of a once-popular block stop.

Alanna Madden contributed to this report.