Broward County

‘Get in your cars!’: 911 calls detail reaction to Plantation explosion

When an explosion went off in the parking lot of a Plantation strip mall, passersby thought a bomb had gone off.

“I’m shaking like a leaf,” said one woman, who was working at a nearby Publix when the explosion occurred on the morning of July 6. “I just ran the heck out of there because the manager said, ‘Get out! Get out!’ ”

The woman’s reaction was among the dozens of 911 calls that Plantation police received that day and released on Tuesday. The calls shed light on the depth of the blast, which injured 23 people and affected 16 businesses in a strip center across from the Fountains, one of the busiest shopping malls in Broward County, at University Drive near Peters Road.

One of the callers reported that a man’s leg had been blown off in the parking lot.

“He looks like he’s passing out,” she said.

Those who weren’t injured just tried to flee the scene.

“Get in your cars! Get out!” another caller said to others in the parking lot.

Most were just calling to ask what happened, having heard the boom, watched the metal debris fly through the air and seen a “huge plume of smoke” billow along University Drive.

A cleanup crew walks through the parking lot at the Fountains Plaza on Sunday, July 7, across the street from the explosion that happened the day before and injured 23 people. Daniel A. Varela

Inundated with calls, responders were forced to push each caller off the phone who was not injured or did not have additional information.

“Everybody felt it in the city,” a responder told one caller. “I gotta run.”

Responders asked those who first called whether they had seen where the explosion came from. Most did not know; one said a restaurant “on the corner” had gas tanks that exploded. Another identified it as a pizza oven, and said he could smell gas.

But fire rescue officials have walked back initial reports that said it was a gas leak at Pizzafire, the business most decimated by the blast. They have said they are still investigating.

TECO Peoples Gas technicians said in a statement on the day of the explosion that they “found no natural gas leaks” in their system, although firefighters did report a ruptured natural gas pipe. Tenants of nearby buildings also said they smelled a strong gas odor. One individual even called TECO moments before the explosion.

Officials have yet to release what caused the explosion, however.

After the explosion, businesses and victims have devised different ways to recover.

The city of Plantation organized a crisis-intervention event to offer services for people affected by the blast, which includes helping workers file for unemployment or move businesses to different locations. Other businesses, including Pho Brothers, a Vietnamese restaurant, and Great Clips, a hair salon, have started fundraisers of their own.

Five victims have hired attorney William Lewis, of the Florida law firm Morgan & Morgan, to seek compensation for their injuries.

Lawsuits have not been filled and the law firm is still investigating what happened, said Rene Rocha, an attorney with Morgan & Morgan.

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Miami Herald Real Time Reporter Devoun Cetoute covers breaking news, Florida theme parks and general assignment. He attends the University of Florida and grew up in Miami. Theme parks are on his mind in and out of the office.