Durham leaders focus on business recovery after deadly gas explosion

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Durham Mayor Steve Schewel is declaring the area around Brightleaf Square open for business less than two weeks after a deadly gas explosion.

As recovery efforts in the area remain ongoing, many business owners and their employees are running into a new set of challenges.

The City of Durham approved permits to excavate the site as part of an ongoing investigation, however, as we get further away from the gas explosion, many who work in the area say they’re afraid they’re going to be forgotten.

While the damage of the downtown Durham gas explosion is obvious to see local business owners like Emanuel Martinez and Gene Devine say the scars run deeper than many can imagine.

“We heard a bad explosion,” said Emanuel Martinez. “We maybe had a few seconds to get out.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Gene Devine. “Right now we’re trying to get all of the businesses back open.”

A week and a half after the blast a dozen businesses in the area remain shuttered.

“We’re not able to open for a little while,” said Martinez. “It could be a few months from now because they’re still working on the investigation.”

Federal loans of up to $2 million should help many local businesses stay afloat throughout the cleanup, but their employees may be left in the dark.

“It’s a heartbreaker,” said Martinez. “On Friday we had a fundraiser, and I saw all of the employees. It broke my heart. Everybody was nervous.”

“We’re always helping out employees out,” said Devine. “No matter what they need we will be there for them.”

Fundraisers have helped offset the financial burden of the blast, but now Martinez says there’s only one thing left to do.

“I’m starting to look for a job right now,” said Martinez.

The Chesterfield Building is offering free office space to anyone displaced by the explosion.

In a bit of good news, all but one of the firefighters injured in the blast have already returned to work.

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