Three people were hospitalized after an explosion and two-alarm fire in Palolo.
It happened at the Palolo Homes apartment complex on Ahe Street. Neighbors tell us they felt their walls shake.
“I wash my clothes outside my house, but I heard something explode. I thought one of the missile came. I look around and I go the other side, and I saw the smoke right there,” said resident Merlynta Conrat.
“Like a bomb. Just like a bomb. Really strong. When I come out I saw everybody just run away from their house,” said resident Kevin Enoch.
Firefighters arrived at 12:37 p.m. to find smoke coming out of multiple windows of a two-story building with debris and signs of an explosion, which officials say was likely due to an oxygen tank.
A 61-year-old man was critically injured after suffering “multiple burns to the majority of his body,” said Emergency Medical Services spokeswoman Shayne Enright. A 58-year-old woman was hospitalized in serious condition with burns to her upper body, face, and arms.
A 70-year-old man was hospitalized in stable condition “likely due to history of having a medical condition.” Enright says all three appear to have been in the same unit at the time of the explosion.
Fire officials are now investigating what caused the fire, as well as the extent of the damage.
A photo from inside the building shows the rubble that was once a concrete wall dividing two units.
“There are multiple units that have been compromised because of the explosion to Building 27, and then there is other blast damage to the south, or makai unit of the originating unit, Building 25, as well as one unit in Building 26,” said Capt. Scot Seguirant, public information officer, Honolulu Fire Department.
Residents in four buildings were unable to return to their units as crews investigated and cleared the scene.
It’s unclear at this time when residents of Building 27, where the fire originated, will be able to return. They were assisted by the American Red Cross.
Mutual Housing, which owns the complex, says it plans to bring in engineers to assess the integrity of the building.
“Being the incident happened on second floor, there’s concern about a possible collapse to first floor. Until further investigation, it’s hard to tell,” said building inspector Lance Luke. “Usually when there’s a fire, there are other things to look for. With an explosion, it’s even more critical because we don’t know what’s going on within the walls.”
“It’s a big shock to all of our staff and community, just trying to sort through all that’s happened,” said Mutual Housing executive director David Nakamura. “Several residents helped save the family and children in units. It’s a strong community that take care of each other, so they’ll come back from this tragedy.”
The Department of Education says Palolo Elementary School was on lockdown until approximately 1:45 p.m.