There is a long road ahead after an explosion that killed two men at the Coryell Memorial Hospital in Gatesville, Texas. There will be a lengthy investigation, which will try to determine whether the cause was a generator, natural gas line—as is often the case in a structural fire—or some other element. There will be countless surgeries and months of rehabilitation for the 14 people injured in the blast, should they survive. And there will be years of mourning and searching for answers for the families of the two men who did not live through the explosion.
Investigations into such explosions are challenging and causes can vary widely, but recent years have seen recurring headlines of fatal explosions that have been linked to natural gas lines, including an incident in Madison County, Ohio, where a couple was thrown from their second-story bedroom after an explosion that officials linked to a natural gas leak.
Explosions Occurred at Construction Site at Coryell Memorial Hospital
Officials say the Gatesville hospital explosion occurred at approximately 2:30 p.m. on June 26, 2018, at the Coryell Memorial Hospital, a 25-bed facility which is currently under renovation. Officials believe that the site of the explosion was a wing at the back of the hospital where construction crews were working on the building. Some witnesses reported that the location was a boiler room that would eventually house the hospital’s boilers and chillers. The explosion was severe enough that the construction area of the hospital partially collapsed.
Video from the aftermath of the explosion shows thick smoke billowing skyward. Gatesville residents tweeted that they felt shaking from the explosion and that power was out in several areas. A man working at a separate construction site not far from the hospital said he sustained an injury to his head when the force of the blast loosened a light fixture that then fell onto him.
No hospital residents suffered injuries in the explosion, but two members of the construction crew died, and 14 other construction workers sustained injuries that were severe enough to require hospitalization.
There were 12 patients in Coryell Memorial Hospital evacuated to neighboring facilities, as well as approximately 120 individuals who were in care homes on the hospital campus who also had to be transferred. Two nursing homes not far from the hospital lost power after the explosion, and officials moved those residents.
Survivors of Texas Hospital Explosion Recovering in Several Other Area Hospitals
The construction workers who survived the Gatesville hospital explosion were taken to a variety of Texas hospitals, with six receiving treatment in nearby Temple, three in San Antonio, three in Austin, and two in Dallas at Parkland Memorial Hospital (where they were airlifted because of severe burns). As of July 10, the six workers recovering in Temple were released from the hospital. All others were still undergoing treatment.
Some of the workers, like Aaron Haveron, were listed in critical condition.
There has been some confusion about who the crews worked for. Adolfson & Peterson Construction is the general contractor for the Coryell Memorial renovation and, in a statement issued the day after the explosion, they said that the two deceased and 14 injured workers were all employed by Lochridge-Priest, Inc., a sub-contractor on the project. Lochridge-Priest, Inc., however, issued a statement two days after the explosion saying that only one of the deceased and five of the injured were employed by their company.
Families of Deceased and Survivors Question Silence After Explosion
The loved ones of those killed and injured in the blast at Coryell Memorial say they’re shocked over how little information they have about the incident.
Rosalina De Paz lost her son Filiberto Morales in the explosion—he had been working on an air conditioner on the roof at the time and died two days later in a Temple hospital. Morales’ family members say that he was an employee of Network Controls, but that the company (and hospital and contractor) had not reached out to them following the explosion. They want more information on what happened and, more importantly, how it happened.
Maricela Dimas’ brother Wilber Dimas survived the Gatesville hospital explosion, but his fate is still uncertain. Dimas sustained burns to more than 70 percent of his body and is receiving treatment at a burn center in Austin. Burnt tissue in his lungs has led to pneumonia and his sister says he undergoes surgery daily.
“No one is talking,” she told KXAN. “It’s just an accident that happened. No one wants to talk about it. I need to find out what happened. I can’t do it on my own.”
Dimas’ family has obtained legal representation to aid them as they move forward in understanding the events at Coryell Memorial.
Restraining Order Granted as Renovation Resumes at Coryell Memorial Hospital
One of the early acts the Dimas family has taken is to pursue a restraining order meant to preserve the scene for further investigation and potentially uncover important evidence. They obtained that restraining order, which is good for 14 days.
The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration have completed an initial investigation. They have gathered evidence from the scene of the explosion and completed 3D scanning, and left the property on July 8, 2018. Construction has since resumed at the hospital, but cleanup has stopped at the blast site due to the restraining order and no construction is underway there.
Generator or Gas Line Suspected
Officials have not given a cause for the explosion, but many witnesses said that an electric generator exploded, sending shrapnel flying through the air. Coryell Memorial Hospital’s chief executive, Dave Byrom, contradicted that report by saying that a gas line may have been responsible.
Speaking about the results of their initial investigation Gatesville Police Chief Nathan Gohlke said that they believe the cause to be a “construction-related accident resulting in a natural gas explosion.”