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Investigators focus on basement in Texas hotel explosion

Fort Worth Fire Chief Jim Davis said no one else is believed to be inside the Sandman Signature Hotel


Members of the Fort Worth Fire Department respond to an explosion at the Sandman Signature Hotel in downtown Fort Worth on Monday, January 8, 2024. At least 21 were injured in the explosion.

Amanda McCoy/TNS

By Harriet Ramos and Nicole Lopez
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas — The cause of an explosion, believed to be linked to a natural gas leak, that caused massive damage to the Sandman Signature Hotel in downtown Fort Worth was still under investigation Tuesday.

Multiple people, all believed to be adults, were injured in the blast Monday afternoon, with 21 hospitalized or treated on scene, according to the fire department and MedStar. A MedStar spokesperson said the count still stood at 21 on Tuesday.

EARLIER: Officials investigate cause of Texas hotel explosion injuring 21 people

Fourteen were transported to local hospitals, with one in critical condition and four in serious condition. The most severely injured person, a patient with major burns, was later transferred from John Peter Smith Hospital to Parkland Memorial in Dallas. Dr. Raj Gandhi, medical director of trauma services at JPS, said Tuesday that the hospital received seven patients total. Two were admitted there and four have been treated and released.

At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Fire Chief Jim Davis said a second search of the hotel has been completed and authorities are confident no one else was inside.

Asked if investigators have confirmed witness accounts that the explosion originated in the basement, Davis said he couldn’t answer with 100% certainty until investigators have interviewed everyone involved and determined where they were in the building. But that is “a high area of concentration” for investigators, he said.

“It’s safe to say the debris field is in the basement area below grade of the building,” Davis said. “That appears to be the case from the assessment of fire rescue teams that were in there. There is significant damage in the building and it is primarily in the sublevel area and under the street.”

Two stories of debris collapsed into the basement, where several of the injured people were found, he said. Davis said the majority of injuries included strains, eye injuries, lacerations and concussions.

The hotel’s 104-year-old building sustained significant damage, but over-engineering with a steel frame may have protected it from the worst impact of the blast. Other buildings surrounding the 20-story tower at 810 Houston St. should be inspected if they sustained any exterior damage, architects told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

At a 9:45 a.m. press conference, police department spokesperson Officer Jimmy Pollozani said some streets in the area will be closed until further notice, including Throckmorton and Houston from West Seventh to West Ninth, and West Eighth Street from Throckmorton to Main. Anything inside that area is considered a hot zone and potentially unsafe, according to Pollozani.

“This is going to take several days,” Pollozani said of the cleanup efforts.

Businesses inside the hot zone area will remain closed, he said. Those outside of that vicinity can use their discretion on whether to remain open. Employees who work in the area can call 817-392-8866 for more information.

The explosion blew out windows and walls on the first and second floors of the hotel, in the historic Waggoner Building, sending debris including drywall, wood, glass, metal and insulation flying into the streets. While some guests and employees were able to escape on their own, firefighters rescued people who were trapped in the basement-level restaurant and from some of the 26 rooms that were occupied in the hotel.

While natural gas did play some role, the city is trying to find out whether an explosion caused the gas leak or the gas leak caused the explosion, Fire Chief Jim Davis told the City Council on Tuesday.

There are no indications the blast was intentional, Police Chief Neil Noakes told the council.

“We have not made 100% determination, but we wanted to make it clear that this was some type of gas explosion,” fire department spokesperson Craig Trojacek said Monday night. “We’re still working on the details of that to figure out what all caused that.”

Construction was ongoing in the building but it’s not yet known whether that contributed to the explosion, according to the fire department.

“There are no public safety concerns for anyone in the Downtown area re: this event,” fire officials posted in a statement on social media.

In an update Tuesday morning shortly before 8 a.m., the fire department said search-and-rescue operations are continuing today with specially trained dogs, but no additional victims have been found trapped inside the building.

After continuing search efforts all night, the Fort Worth Fire Department along with crews from Atmos Energy, ATF (Dallas Field Office), Fort Worth Police Department, Fort Worth Water, Texas A&M Task Force 1, MedStar, and City of Fort Worth Transportation & Public Works remain on scene Tuesday.

The fire department also shared new, closeup photos of the aftermath of the explosion and rescue efforts.

“It’s heartbreaking for downtown Fort Worth, of course,” Mayor Mattie Parker told reporters Monday night. “At this point, our hearts and prayers are with the victims at area hospitals.”

Parker said that the city will work with the building’s owners to do anything possible to preserve the structure.

The Waggoner Building was constructed in 1920. The Sandman Signature Hotel opened there less than a year ago and includes a basement-level restaurant, where the explosion is believed to have occurred, according to witnesses.

Northland Properties Co., the Canadian company that owns the 245-room hotel, said in a statement that it was working with officials to determine how the explosion occurred and how much damage it caused.

“The safety and well-being of our team members and guests is our priority,” the company said. “We are working with those who have been injured to fully support them at this time.”

The Asian fusion restaurant, Musume, opened last summer. The restaurant, which usually opens at 5 p.m. for dinner, was closed at the time of the explosion around 3:30, but three employees were injured.

A representative of the restaurant said no construction was going on there.

Two of the three Musume workers injured in the blast have been released from hospitals, a spokesperson said. One employee remains hospitalized in stable condition.

All 40-plus Musume workers will have access to jobs at the company’s other North Texas locations.

Bars near explosion site close during cleanup

Thompson’s Bookstore and The Archibald are two bars located right next door to the Sandman Signature Hotel on Houston Street.

Everyone at Thompson’s is safe and accounted for as the venue plans to stay temporarily closed while city crews assess the situation, the bar posted to Facebook.

Thompson’s reopened last summer after a year of renovations to its three-story building.

Keith Arias was about a block and a half from The Archibald, 902 Houston St., on Monday afternoon when he heard the hotel explosion.

Arias, who co-owns the bar, said the initial boom sounded like a garbage truck dropping a dumpster on the ground.

“Then I felt and saw the aftermath and was like, ‘Oh my God’,” Arias said.

The Archibald had a few staffers inside the building when the explosion occurred, who were gearing up to open the bar at 4 p.m. Everyone who was working at the bar is safe and accounted for, Arias said.

As far as damage to The Archibald, Arias believes everything is in order but hasn’t been able to get back inside the building since the explosion.

The Archibald was closed Tuesday as crews worked in the area surrounding the hotel explosion.

Will the explosion affect Stock Show, MLK parades?

A Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo spokesman said Tuesday the organizers still hope to hold Saturday’s “All Western” Parade through downtown, but no decisions have been made. The parade route passes the Sandman Signature Hotel, where Monday’s large explosion caused substantial damage to the 20-story tower.

“Our hope is that the parade will occur as planned while recognizing the importance of the ongoing investigation,” the Stock Show spokesman said, “and the need to ensure the safety of parade spectators and participants.”

The organization said it would make an announcement about the parade, which includes 3,000 horses and officially kicks off the annual Stock Show events, as soon as decisions are made.

“(We) extend our support and concerns to those injured in the tragedy as well as the first responders who came to their rescue.”

Authorities also said no decision had been made yet about the 39th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Parade and Rally that is scheduled for Monday.

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