Story by Ashley Traylor, Assistant News Editor
“It was surreal and terrifying”
A Murray State Facilities Management student worker was walking the residential circle around 4:45 p.m. after work Wednesday, June 28 when suddenly the ground began to vibrate under his feet, knocking him nearly three feet backward onto the pavement.
Pete Brar said he did not know what was happening in that moment, but his first instinct was to run away from the residential halls as quickly as possible.
“I heard someone screaming ‘bombing,’” he said. “‘They’re bombing the place. They’re bombing.’”
After a preliminary investigation, Kentucky State Police spokesman, Jody Cash said a natural gas leak was responsible for the explosion at James H. Richmond Residential College.
Brar said he is lucky to be alive, after learning the quake and the smoke-covered clouds were the aftermath of a dorm explosion.
“We were going to clean the building the very next day, and I was walking so close to it,” Brar said. “That could have been a different story, if I were there. Right there. But just being close to it, it was an almost near death experience.”
Brar walks the same loop around the residential colleges every day around the same time.
He was on the opposite side of New Richmond when the south side of the building exploded.
He said he remembers the explosion in phases.
First, the shock wave was a jolt, he said, like someone pushed him.
“It felt like even the shock wave could kill you,” Brar said. “It was that bad. Like your heart stopped right there.”
Around that time, he said debris was flying into the air and a dark cloud formed in the sky.
“What I see is this mushroom cloud,” he said. “I have never seen anything like it before. Ever. It’s almost like it touched the clouds.”
The blast created a “loud, deafening, hollow” sound, Brar said.
Looking back on the explosion a few days later, he said he is feeling “numb,” and cannot believe this happened at Murray State.
“For a day I was in trauma, and I still am,” Brar said. “It was a normal day. It was an everyday thing. I do it every single day…I believe if I was at the opposite side, I would have died.”
While Brar was close to the explosion, student Savanna Hayes was sitting in class in Alexander Hall when the electricity cut off, the building began to quiver and the windows tremble.
“To me, it sounded like something blew up,” Hayes said. “It was odd because it was only one boom, similar to one clap of thunder, if the storm was right over you, just louder. Then, immediate silence.”
Hayes said she thought something was happening to Alexander Hall, or a building near by.
But outside, Hayes said she heard people screaming “explosion.”
She stood with some of her classmates on the sidewalk of Chestnut Street, watching the first responders arrive on scene.
“It was surreal and terrifying,” Hayes said. “What a reminder of the fragility of our lives.”
Update from the university:
Jody Cash, public affairs officer for Kentucky State Police, said the explosion was non-criminal, and the state police handed the case over to the Kentucky State Fire Marshal for further investigation.
Vice President of University Advancement, Adrienne King said Hester, Hart and Lee Clark residence halls and Winslow Dining Hall were damaged in the blast.
Some of Winslow Dining Hall’s windows were shattered from the shock wave, King said.
Contractors are working on renovations to the dining hall, and King said the plan is for the facility to be operational for the fall semester.
Housing assignments will be available on MyGate Tuesday, July 22.
King said students who planned to live in James H. Richmond in the fall will be able to remain with their residential college, if they elect to move into Old Richmond College. Residents of James H. Richmond have until July 11 to notify the housing office of their housing preference.
If they wish to live in a different residential college, King said they need to email the housing office by Tuesday, July 11 with their housing preference.
The Kentucky State Fire Marshal approved clean up outside the direct impact area, and King said university officials will continue to clear debris and board up broken windows to reduce to the contamination area.