“We are committed to fully understanding the cause and are working closely with investigators,” he said at a news conference, debris from the Lakeside Columbia retail and office complex behind him.
The explosion, which could be felt several miles away, occurred shortly before 8 a.m. at 8865 Stanford Blvd., in a building that houses several small businesses and offices in a popular commercial district of Columbia, off Snowden River Parkway, according to Howard County emergency officials.
Officials said 22 businesses were affected by the explosion.
Howard County Deputy Fire Chief John Jerome said firefighters found an apparent natural gas leak from a large crack in the parking lot and “dangerous concentrations of natural gas inside the building” after they arrived on the scene about 7 a.m. Sunday. They made a “quick and hasty search” for occupants of the building and, after finding no one, moved a safe distance away and isolated the area.
Jerome said county officials are working to assess the structural integrity of the building.
Koos said BGE “cannot speculate on the possible causes yet, the source of the leak or the ignition source.”
He said there is still equipment that BGE has not been able to examine because of “access issues with the building.”
There were no gas odor calls at the site in the past year, Koos said. There was one call from a restaurant in the shopping center in February 2018, and that was inspected “and resolved as a customer appliance issue,” Koos said. He said no issues with the gas mains in the area were found during an annual inspection in July.
He said electric and gas services to the building remain off.
“We are committed to understanding what occurred to make our system safer,” he said.
The Lakeside Columbia building, a site managed by Holland Properties, has a gym, a coffee shop and small restaurants on the first floor. There are legal, medical and other professional offices in the building. A large portion of the L-shaped structure is occupied by a Social Security field office.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) said Monday that the explosion “caused understandable shock and confusion in our community.”
“We are thankful that if some devastating incident like this had to happen, it happened on a Sunday morning, when there was no loss of life or injury,” he said. “Moving forward, we will continue as a united Howard County . . . we are a resilient community, and we know how to come together.”
He said his economic development team is working with the affected businesses to temporarily relocate them.
County fire officials escorted some business owners onto the site Monday to claim their property, spokesman Brad Tanner said. He said businesses at the center of the explosion remain inaccessible.
Jerome, the deputy fire chief, said he was unsure whether the building would need to be torn down.