PENSACOLA, Fla. – An apparent gas explosion rocked a jail in the Florida Panhandle late Wednesday, killing two inmates, injuring more than 100 people, and causing the building to partially collapse, according to a county spokeswoman.
At the blast site Thursday morning, pieces of glass and brick were strewn about on the ground. The front of the building appeared bowed out, with cracks throughout. Authorities blocked off roads leading to the jail.
"I ain't never heard anything like it," said Rodney Cozine, standing outside his neighboring home, looking at a large gash in the building and piles of debris.
The explosion happened about 11 p.m. CDT at a booking facility at the Escambia County Jail, and as many as 150 inmate and corrections officers were injured, said Kathleen Castro, the county's public information manager.
A couple of blocks from the jail, Ellis Robinson and his family awoke to a loud noise sometime after midnight, their home rattling. "It shook the whole house," he said. "I got up, the dog started barking, people were running up there." He spent the night observing the chaos and watching as inmates were loaded into buses.
About 600 inmates were in the Pensacola building at the time, Castro said. Those with injuries — all minor — were taken to hospitals and the uninjured were taken to jails in neighboring counties, officials said.
The Pensacola area was drenched by rains and severely flooded Wednesday as part of a large storm system making its way across the U.S., and Castro said the building was affected. But she said officials did not yet know whether the flooding and explosion were directly related.
Search-and-rescue teams combed the building several times and think everyone is accounted for, Castro said. Investigators were on the scene.
Victims were taken to four local hospitals, and many had been released by Thursday morning, according to the hospitals.
The names of the two inmates killed in the explosion weren't immediately released.