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Portland bagel shop leveled after pair of explosions, 8 people injured

NW Portland explosion (Photo by KATU's Tristan Fortsch)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) - Eight people -- including three firefighters -- were injured following a gas leak and two explosions in Northwest Portland Wednesday morning.

Dozens of people were evacuated from three buildings in the area of NW 23rd Avenue and Glisan Street just after 9 a.m. due to a gas leak.

A contractor had apparently nicked a gas line while working at a nearby construction site.

PHOTOS | Explosions shake NW Portland neighborhood

Moments later, two thunderous explosions were heard, sending flames and large, black plumes of smoke into the air.

"I did time in Iraq. This was just like a bomb going off," a witness said.

Portland Bagelworks was leveled by the explosion. The owner of the shop told KATU News all his employees are accounted for.

"There was construction going on across the street and worker came in and said they had broken the gas line. My baker said he smelled gas. I called my boss, who then called NW Natural. Next thing, I know there's firefighters coming in and we're evacuating," Bagelworks manager Brittany Hughes said. "We evacuated... and then the building exploded."

Three firefighters who were inside the building at the time of the explosion were injured; two of them suffered broken legs. Three civilians were also hospitalized, though it's unknown if they were inside the building or bystanders.

“We're proud of [the first responders]. They took the brunt when this explosion went off. I’m proud they were thinking of the community and keeping people safe," Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said.

Two Portland Police officers were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. No fatalities have been reported.

The Red Cross is assisting first responders by providing food and water, and has set up a reception center for residents who are displaced at 1972 NW Flanders.

"Had those evacuations happened minutes later, this would be a much different story," Lt. Rich Chatman with Portland Fire and Rescue said.

Portland Fire Bureau Chief Mike Myers praised one of his firefighters, Lt. Peter St. John, for saving lives.

“This man, single-handedly, I believe, saved the lives of a lot of citizens today and a lot of firefighters,” he said. “My understanding is he went in on his own and pulled the fire alarms, which allowed those individuals to evacuate. Had those steps not been taken, we would be having a different conversation this afternoon,” he said.

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A building next door to Bagelworks had its windows blown out and appears to be heavily damaged.

Allison, an employee at Dosha salon, said her manager was first to call the gas company when they noticed the smell earlier in the morning.

They evacuated, and just a couple minutes later, two explosions were heard.

"You could almost feel the noise, that’s how loud it was," Allison said. "It’s hard to talk about. Glass shattered, everything exploded… it was indescribable."

Crews are asking residents to stay away from the area for the rest of the day. It could be days until the buildings are secured.

Power and gas have been cut in the heavily populated area.

Many businesses nearby had their windows blown out in the blast.

Students at the Metropolitan Learning Center have been evacuated and are being bused to Portland Public Schools headquarters at 501 N Dixon.

PGE reports 2,500 customers are without power.

NW Natural and government officials said they are working to get service restored to customers and the street back open as quickly as possible. Just after 7 p.m. the company said the area was safe again but won't be able to restore service until the area is cleared and released by investigators.

NW Natural said it is working with Portland firefighters, other government officials and the Red Cross during the situation. The company asks anyone who needs help to call it at 800-882-3377.

"We want to express our deepest concern for those injured and those affected by today's events, and thank the first responders, including our employees, who all did an amazing job," the company said in a statement.

Stay with KATU News as this story develops.

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