Three people are being treated for injuries and two buildings have been reduced to rubble following an explosion in the town centre of Wheatley, Ont.
The explosion happened shortly after 6 p.m. ET at the corner of Erie Street and Talbot Road, 50 kilometres southeast of Windsor. Nearby homes and businesses have been evacuated.
A number of ambulances were called in, expecting numerous injuries, said Kevin Black, communications specialist for Erie Shores HealthCare. None of the injuries are life threatening.
The chief administrative officer for Chatham-Kent, the area municipality, said that two buildings, 15 Erie St. N. and 15 Talbot Rd. E., were destroyed in what he called a "major" explosion.
CBC News has not yet confirmed what caused the explosion. An official investigation is underway. But there had been several gas leaks in the area, dating back to earlier this summer said CAO Don Stropshire.
"That area has had two detected gas leaks, today was the third," said Stropshire.
The building had been under an emergency declaration order since July 19, he said. Bystanders told CBC that the intersection had been blocked off and on all week.
Gas leak detected Thursday
Maurice Raffoul owns MJ's Pizza at 19 Erie St. N. — next door to one of the buildings that was destroyed.
He was sitting outside on a bench when he heard the explosion.
"We turned around and just ran," said Raffoul.
He said there was no one inside his building at the time because it had been evacuated after an employee smelled gas.
"There was a heavy gas presence," said Raffoul.
The Municipality of Chatham-Kent said in a news release that monitoring devices detected gas at 4:30 p.m. Those devices triggered an alarm, and a 911 call.
That's when, the municipality said, officials evacuated the nearby buildings, which would have included MJ's Pizza. Emergency responders were in the process of evacuating a larger zone around Erie and Talbot streets when the explosion happened.
It was shortly after 6 p.m. when Mike Brannagan said he heard "a loud, concussive boom."
"I saw some black smoke rising and then debris shooting through the air," said Brannagan, who was just a few blocks away.
"It's devastated, like a big pile of rubble," said Brannagan of the Pogue Irish Pub, which hadn't operated in years, according to Stropshire.
Around the corner, Kathryn Parent was inside Renny's The Village Smokehouse.
"The windows rattled and pictures fell off the wall," she said, adding that the restaurants glass window blew out during the explosion.
Parent said that when she arrived at the restaurant before the explosion there were firefighters on the scene.
"The firefighters seemed very relaxed, there was nothing happening at the moment. All of the sudden... we were sitting there and kaboom."
She said emergency officials closed down a large area around the explosion.
She said they told her at the time the gas was still leaking.
Area previously under emergency declaration
The area was already being monitored by emergency officials because of an ongoing investigation following gas leaks that were reported earlier this summer.
"There has been no new detection of gas since the last report July 19," said the Municipality of Chatham-Kent in a press release issued Aug. 3.
"Given the reoccurrence of the gas detection, the ongoing monitoring offers an increased level of safety for those working in the building and ensures emergency services can be notified and a further public evacuation can be implemented, if needed."
Stropshire said that they have not been able to determine the source of that gas leak but that the most likely cause was an abandoned gas well.
"The explosion is in the vicinity of the location where hydrogen sulphide gas was first discovered in June of this year," said Shropshire.
The Wheatley Arena has been set up as a reception area for people that have been forced to leave their homes.