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Watch: Ohio firefighter rescues victim from basement after building explosion

Body-worn-camera footage shows a Youngstown firefighter climbing down into the rubble to rescue a victim

By Bruce Shipkowski
Associated Press

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A cut natural gas line was found in a basement area of an Ohio building which was severely damaged by a massive explosion this week, the National Transportation Safety Board reported Thursday, but it’s not yet known if that played a role in the blast.

The line was not supposed to have gas in it, NTSB board member Tom Chapman said during a news conference, but it was found to be pressurized. He said the line came off the main service line and led to the building in downtown Youngstown but did not service the structure.

Chapman said investigators would try to determine whether third-party work to clear out old infrastructure in the basement may have led to the line cut and explosion and why it was pressurized. Chapman said he did not believe there was anything suspicious about the cut line.

The explosion Tuesday afternoon blew out much of the ground floor of Realty Tower, killing a bank employee and injuring several other people. It collapsed part of the ground floor into its basement and sent the façade across a street where both sides had been blocked off by orange construction barriers. Bricks, glass and other debris littered the sidewalk outside the 13-story building, which had a Chase Bank branch at street level and apartments in upper floors

The NTSB said pipeline and hazardous materials investigators were at the scene in Youngstown on Thursday to see the damage, which Chapman described as “devastating — really stunning.” He said the team would remain on the scene for about a week and likely issue a preliminary report within 30 days.

The NTSB is leading the investigation because pipelines are considered a mode of transportation.

First responders were on the scene of the explosion within minutes, and some of the initial search and rescue was recorded by a Mahoning County deputy’s bodycam video.

“We’ve got civilians over here screaming for help,” the deputy yells into his radio as he runs up to the building. “Be advised, there are people trapped.”

Moments later, the deputy is seen helping firefighters lower a ladder into a gaping hole where parts of the ground floor fell into the basement, and then helps a firefighter carry a woman to safety.

Before the partial video released by the sheriff ends, the deputy can be heard warning other responders that natural gas was leaking from an area near the front of the building.

The bank employee, 27-year-old Akil Drake, had been seen inside the building right before the blast, police said Wednesday. Firefighters rescued others as they cleared the building.

Seven injured people were taken to Mercy Health Hospital in Youngstown. One woman remained hospitalized Thursday in critical condition, but her name and further details on her injuries have not been disclosed. Three others were in stable condition, and the other three were released.