Raya Zimmerman, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published January 05 2014
Propane explosion forces hundreds to evacuate in RogersROGERS, Minn. – Hundreds of people were evacuated Sunday morning from a large apartment complex in Rogers after a generator linked to a propane tank exploded.
No injuries have been reported from the 8:41 a.m. blast at the 192-unit apartment complex, Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen said. Some 400 to 500 people, many of them families with children, were taken by Metro Transit buses to a nearby Hampton Inn and to the Rogers 18 Theatre.
Residents had been evacuated by 9:30 a.m., about 50 minutes after the explosion.
The explosion was heard miles away from the far northwest Hennepin County town, Beahen said.
Building inspectors were at the Preserve at Commerce complex Sunday afternoon to determine when residents could return home. Several windows of the apartment were blown out, Beahen said, and about 10 apartment units were heavily damaged. The hope is that 150 units could be reoccupied by Sunday night, Beahan said.
Beahan said he has never seen an explosion of this magnitude, and that it is rare.
“Everybody is really shaken,” he said of the people who were evacuated. “It knocked people off their feet.”
The explosion occurred at a 40-foot wide pavilion on the northeast corner of the property that held a conversion generator, which converts propane to natural gas, Beahen said. Underneath the generator was a propane tank. When the generator exploded shortly after 8:30 a.m., fireballs shot five to six stories in the air, he said. Gas continued to leak from the generator causing several smaller explosions after the initial blast, the Hennepin County sheriff’s office said.
The generator serves as a backup energy source for the apartment complex. As the weekend’s temperatures fell, the complex used more energy than normal, Beahen said. At the request of its energy company, the complex turned on the generator Saturday afternoon.
The Preserve at Commerce apartments are at 13600 Commerce Boulevard, near Minnesota 101 and South Diamond Lake Road and roughly 30 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.
The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army provided food and clothing to those who evacuated.
“I think the luck here is the generator system is outside the complex,” he said. “They are outside for a reason.”
Thirteen police and sheriff’s departments assisted at the scene.
The Rogers police department had a “remarkable” response, Beahen said, adding the department had staffed only two officers for the day. Minutes after the explosion, he said 50 to 60 officers from neighboring county police departments had arrived.