SPRINGFIELD — A natural gas explosion rocked downtown Springfield on Friday evening, injuring at least 18 people after leveling a downtown strip club in the city’s entertainment district, fire and hospital officials reported.
None of the injuries was considered life-threatening, according to spokeswomen at Baystate Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center in Springfield. Three of the injured were gas workers, two were firefighters, and at least one was a police officer, according to hospital officials and the New England Gas Workers Assocation, a nonprofit that promotes gas safety.
The explosion at 453 Worthington St., happened about 6 p.m., leveling the Scores Gentlemen’s Club, punching a large hole in the street, and blowing shards of glass and other debris through downtown streets. The Springfield Republican website reported that a nearby day care and five-story building were heavily damaged.
It was “just a mushroom cloud of an explosion — big and orange,’’ said Victor Bruno, who owns Adolfos Italian Restaurant in the district. “It’s just a bad scene.’’
Residents in Wilbraham and South Hadley felt the explosion, according to the Republican.
About 4:30 p.m., gas workers were reportedly finishing an investigation after receiving several calls about the smell of gas. Having evacuated the street during the investigation, workers were getting ready to let people back in when the explosion happened, according to Mark McDonald of the New England Gas Workers Association.
“It’s a good thing the people were still evacuated,’’ McDonald said. “If there were people in the building, it would have been a real catastrophe.’’
The area is a bustling entertainment and residential area. It was quiet Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, although Bruno and other witnesses said it would have been crowded later in the night.
Debbie, a dancer at Scores who didn’t want her last name used, said she was on stage dancing when the “house mom’’ came up and told everyone to evacuate, according to the Republican news site.
She went upstairs and saw smoke. While she was gathering her clothes, the manager came up and told everyone, “I don’t care if you’re (expletive) naked or not, get out.’’
The manager took them across the street.
“I feel lucky we got out,’’ Debbie said. She said all her work clothes were lost.
She told the Republican that Scores workers had been smelling gas for a while, and the gas company came in during the week to check, but didn’t find anything. She said the gas odor was especially intense Friday morning.
The gas distribution company responsible for service in the area is Columbia Gas Co. A spokesman did not immediately have comment.
The chaos of the scene had quieted by 7 p.m., and police had evacuated people in nearby businesses, said Bruno, the restaurant owner, as he prepared to head home.
“All I lost was some business tonight,’’ he said.