Demolition to begin at strip mall Monday

Gas leak suspected in explosion
March 1, 2008 2:44:06 PM PST
Crews will begin tearing down Monday a Waukegan strip mall rocked by an explosion and fire on Thursday afternoon. The force of the blast blew off the roof off the building on Thursday. Nine people were injured and several businesses were heavily damaged. Previously, there were plans to tear down a portion of the building Friday night, but the site remained secured Saturday. Demolition equipment has been moved in for the expected tear down.

Sacundo Hurtado owned a travel agency that was one of four businesses inside the strip mall. On Friday, he tried to salvage what he could.

"They're going to turn down the building," said Hurtado.

The demolition it is expected to take three days. The downtown building was not structurally sound.

"We're on one of the most major thoroughfares in town and this building behind us here still has the potential to fall out at any moment," said Steve Lenzi, Waukegan Fire Marshal.

Investigators have determined that a natural gas explosion occurred, but they have not determined what caused the gas to ignite. Friday, authorities believed the source was in the tuxedo shop. They removed the shop's boiler and other equipment for inspection.

"We do know that we did have a gas explosion of some sort. We have not been able to narrow down exactly what ignited it or exactly where the gas was coming from," said Lenzi.

Only one of the nine people injured remains hospitalized. Andy Andani, who owned a store in the strip mall, said he and his wife escaped without serious injuries. However, he did not have renters insurance, so he is not sure they'll recover financially.

"This is the only thing I have in my life. Everything I put together for the last 11 years, this is the only bread and butter we have," said Andy Andani, business owner.

A shop across the street has offered Andani temporary space for his shop.