JMU student observed ‘big mushroom cloud’ moments after Harrisonburg strip mall explosion


HARRISONBURG, Va. – A student at James Madison University said he felt the force of the explosion, which leveled a strip mall and left five people, including three JMU students, injured near Harrisonburg in the city on Saturday morning.

Matthew Jenkins, a university attendant, said he wasn’t shocked long after he woke up.

“I just heard the sound of a loud bang and I was thrown into my wall,” Jenkins recalled. “My head hit the wall and I thought something had crashed into the building, so I looked outside and I saw a big torrential cloud.”

According to Harrisburg officials, fire crews were dispatched around 8:30 a.m. to news of the explosion near Miller Circle, just off South Main Street.

When firefighters arrived, they found smoke and flames from several businesses in the strip mall as well as two victims outside the structure, said Harrisonburg Fire Chief Matt Tobia.

“There was a barber shop, a vulture shop, a music recording studio, and a bakery,” said Michael Parks, director of Harrisonburg Communications.

Two seriously injured people were sent to UVA Medical Center. According to city officials, they were in stable condition in the final check-up on Saturday evening.

Parks said it was not immediately clear if those victims were affiliated with one of the center’s businesses.

Fire personnel also said that three students of JMU were injured.

“They came here at the time and had minor injuries from the wreckage,” Parks said.

The university said in a Facebook post that three students from the school’s Army ROTC program, who competed in the 10-mile race, were injured. The school said the building was about 30 yards (27 m) away from the race start and finish line.

The JMU said that one of the students was admitted to the hospital, but was expected to be released soon. Two other students were treated at the scene and released according to the post.

The strip mall was a “total loss” according to the park, and the damage was also reported to other structures.

Although the government Ralph Northam Tweeted Tobia said that on Saturday morning the state’s emergency personnel were deployed in what they called a gas explosion.

But officials said there is no sign of hooliganism.

“So of course it’s unpredictable,” Parks said. And as we try to find out what was the reason, we hope that people will keep an eye on such things, whatever are necessary to take care that similar situations do not happen ‘other of the city. This will not happen in places also. “

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