9 hurt in shopping mall explosion

February 28, 2008 8:35:00 PM PST
It appears a natural gas explosion blew the roof off a far north suburban strip mall. For a time it was feared people may have been trapped, but firefighters say they're sure everyone got out safely, although there were several injuries.

It all happened in Waukegan about noon Thursday.

The explosion rocked the neighborhood. Nine people were injured and one woman spent Thursday night at the Vista Medical Center. Her relatives tell ABC7 she is in pain, that she's suffering, and she's in the intensive care unit. But her relatives say they're just grateful she's alive.

"I told her it's a miracle that you're alive," said Odalys Palomo, victim's sister-in-law.

Isabel Cristina Gonzalez is covered with cuts and bruises, and her back is injured, but she is alive after a wall at Cleopatra's salon caved in and crushed her. Relatives say she was getting her hair done. Her 5-year-old son is usually with her, but not on Thursday.

"He doesn't know. Going to tell him why mama has to stay in the hospital and why she's staying there," said Lucy Navarro, victim's sister-in-law.

Authorities say natural gas sparked an explosion, literally blowing the roof off the line of stores. When rescuers first arrived, they saw torsos and body parts. It turned out they were mannequins from a tuxedo store.

"The mannequins from the tuxedo shop littered Grand Avenue. So initially, when you pulled up to the front of the building, you thought the incident was a lot worse than what it was until you got closer," said Chief Patrick Gallagher, Waukegan Fire Dept.

Thursday night, witnesses were still stunned about what happened. A security camera at a business across the street captured images of a woman walking into a store. A second later, the glass windows burst, and the blast was so intense it blew a door open across the street.

"It seem like someone threw a bomb in the middle of the block because it was really, really loud noise," said Magdi Hussein, store owner.

"I was looking out the window and saw this weird light and hear the whole ground shake. I thought it was an earthquake or something. Then I saw all the glass shatter," said Josh Morales, witness.

Businesses across the street are cleaning up the broken glass and boarding windows. They're just grateful that everyone survived. When the blast happened, about noon Thursday, there were initial concerns that maybe one person was not accounted for. Fire officials said Thursday night that they are confident everyone got out safely.