Senior living residents evacuated as construction site explosion kills 1, injures 12

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Damage in the area of construction is “catastrophic,” said Coryell Memorial Health System CEO David Byrom. Photo: Belton Police Department.
Damage in the area of construction is “catastrophic,” said Coryell Memorial Health System CEO David Byrom. Photo: Belton Police Department.

June 27 update: At a June 27 press conference, Coryell County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Herald said that 15 people had been injured in the explosion. The deceased construction worker was identified as 44-year-old Michael Bruggman.

June 29 update: A second construction worker, Filiberto Morales, 36, died June 29.

A Texas healthcare system has evacuated its senior living and long-term care residents as well as hospital patients after an on-site explosion around 2 p.m. CDT Tuesday killed one construction worker and injured 12 other construction workers.

No staff members, residents or patients were injured, officials said.

“We have a major construction project going on at the facility, an expansion, and the new central plant appears like where it occurred,” David Byrom, CEO of Coryell Memorial Health System in Gatesville, TX, said Tuesday night during a press conference. “I do understand that there's a possibility of a gas line, maybe some activity going on with that,” he added.

The health system, southwest of Waco, TX, includes a 25-bed acute care hospital, independent living, assisted living and a nursing home, all connected on one campus, Byrom said.

The explosion knocked out power to the surrounding community for a while, as well as to the health system, he said.

“At this point, we have no reason to believe that this was anything other than an accident,” Coryell County Judge John Firth said.

Construction workers with critical injuries were taken by ambulance or helicopter to local trauma centers or to the burn unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital two hours away in Dallas, said Jeff Bates, M.D., Coryell Memorial's chief medical officer. The name of the deceased construction worker has not been released.

All residents and patients — a total of approximately 140 to 150 people — were evacuated. Hospital patients were transferred to a local hospital, nursing home residents were taken to another nursing home, and independent living and assisted living residents waited in area churches while arrangements were made to relocate them until they can return to the facility, Byrom said.

“We will be sending support staff with them to be sure they're taken care of,” he said. “Families are being notified.”

The CEO said he was in a board meeting when the explosion went off.

“It was a tremendous blast,” he said. “It felt like a bomb had exploded. We immediately started [heading] to our acute care and residential areas to see what had occurred.”

Now, the area of the building where new construction was underway is “extremely damaged,” and he later described it as “catastrophic.”

And the damage wasn't limited to the construction area, he said.

“I can look at The Meadows, our 90-bed nursing home, and I see some damage to it,” Byrom said. “I see some damage to other parts of the building that appear to be related to a shock wave that occurred when the blast occurred. I can see some damage across the street to some of our ancillary services that are over there.”

Inside the nursing home, Byrom said, light fixtures fell to the floor, and windows and doors were “blown out.”

Investigators and system personnel, he said, are assessing the scene to “understand what structural damage we have and what infrastructure damage we have to the gas lines or electrical service.  …Tomorrow, probably all that is going to be online is our ambulance service.”

Local, regional state and federal authorities are on the scene, as are representatives from construction company Adolfson & Stevenson, Byrom said.

According to a post on the health system's Facebook page, staff initiated the system's disaster plan immediately after the explosion.

“We had triage areas set up out back with our medical staff and nurses there,” Byrom said. “At the same time, we were evacuating the building, trying to get residents and patients located in the proper facility, and it all happened in a very reasonable and short time frame.”

Staff members regularly train for disasters, he said, adding, however, that they “certainly never expected an event of this magnitude.”

The events in Texas happened just one day after an explosion, fire and shooting in Long Beach, CA, left one firefighter dead and one injured from gunshot wounds. Authorities there arrested a resident and booked him on charges of murder, attempted murder and arson. Another resident was injured.

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