Video shows explosion before Austin building collapse, injuring 8; cause still under investigation

Chicago explosion: Peoples Gas says Austin building collapse not caused by its equipment

ByKaren Jordan, Liz Nagy, and Christian Piekos via WLS logo
Thursday, September 22, 2022
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Surveillance video shows the massive explosion that caused a South Austin apartment building to collapse on Chicago's West Side Tuesday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The cause of a Chicago building explosion and collapse in the Austin neighborhood remains under investigation Wednesday.

"I've been asking the same question, I can't imagine what it was," property owner Roman Viere said.

The collapse and explosion Tuesday left eight people injured, including three seriously.

Surveillance video captured the explosion. A woman who had been standing idly on the sidewalk runs in terror, dodging bricks, cement and shards of glass spewing into the street.

Another angle of the blast shows a bright orange flash, a mere instant that shattered the homes and lives of dozens of families.

Mack Julion's colleague, a West Side postal worker, was inside the building among the rubble.

"He's in very serious condition right now. All we can do right now is believe," he said.

"It's surreal," Viere said. "Nothing could prepare you for a situation which we are dealing with today."

WATCH: CFD responds to South Austin building collapse

Viere owns the now severely damaged building.

"When I arrived on site and I saw the rubble all over the street and on top of that one car, it was just breathtaking," he said. "You automatically think of a war zone."

RELATED: Chicago building that exploded has history of inspection failures, alleged code violations

Residents were given a chance to return to their homes briefly, for about half an hour, to grab what belongings they could.

"I snatched a picture out of my mom and dad I had hanging on the wall, and it's a lot of personal items that I had that can't be replaced," said resident David Howard.

He also took pictures of the damage when he was inside, and is thankful he was not in the building at the time of the blast.

"A lot of people came out of the building with the clothes on their backs," he said.

Fire officials said the blast happened around 9 a.m. on the top floor of the building, which is located at the intersection of West End and Central Avenue.

The blast could be felt blocks away. Debris from the explosion impaled a building across the street.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said James Fenton, who lives next door to the building that exploded.

WATCH: CFD deputy commissioner describes response to building collapse

"When the building shook, I said, 'what in the hell was shaking the building like that?'" he said.

The ABC7 I-Team found online records, highlighting a history of inspection failures and alleged code violations at the building, but Viere says, "Nothing that came up in any of those inspections would have had anything to do with what happened yesterday."

As the sun shines on the belongings of tenants, now visible from the street, Viere says he is focused on making sure his residents are cared for.

"My heart goes out to them," he said. "When I got home with my family last night we had prayers for them. It's just devastating and we want to make sure we do what we can to help them out."

The property owner also said his office is working with all of the affected residents to help them in securing housing.

He could not comment on if the building will be demolished.

One resident said the owner and building management aren't offering them enough.

"They're trying to put us inside another apartment that's $150 more than what we're paying for right now, and once we tell them we can't afford that because we're already in an uncomfortable situation and wasn't expecting this to happen," said one resident, who did not want to be identified.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Urban Alternatives said in part, "eight of the 31 families had chosen new medium-term housing, and the other 23 families had all been offered a new apartment. For all residents, Urban Alternatives will transfer their rents and deposits to cover expenses at their new homes."

ABC7 spoke with some of the explosion victims, who described those panicked moments after the blast.

Eric Hune was knocked clean off his feet.

"I just got up off the floor. I didn't even see myself fall down. I got up off the floor and just ran straight out the door," he said. "I woke up off the ground. I don't remember hitting the ground. I just remember getting up and running."

WATCH: 'It's very tragic': West Side alderman reacts to building collapse

The third floor hallway, he said, was a fog of chaos, a mix of disorienting panic, dust and doors blown off hinges.

"As I was running out they couldn't see where to go, there was so much smoke, so they just followed behind me," he said. "So many of us running out, I couldn't count."

A nearby church also served as a Red Cross shelter for displaced residents, providing them with food and a place to sleep.

Many fled the scene without cell phones, identification or medications.

"My foundation of my home shook like an earthquake," said Ashunda Harris, who lives in an apartment a few blocks away. "I saw a cloud of smoke from the building. It was a foundation type of smoke, not like smoke from a fire."