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Explosion at Rockbridge County gas station kills 2, injures 4

Explosion at Rockbridge County gas station kills 2, injures 4

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The owner, Robert Keiser, of Keiser’s Applance and Service on Beech Avenue in downtown Buena Vista posted a statement of grief and concern on his sign after a morning explosion at South River Market, just north of town.

BUENA VISTA — A fiery explosion destroyed a gas station at a country crossroads Friday morning, killing at least two people and injuring four.

The two victims were found in the rubble of what used to be the South River Market, according to Nathan Ramsey, director of the Rockbridge County Fire and EMS Department.

Authorities had not identified those killed or injured by Friday evening, as the search continued for others that remained unaccounted for.

There was no immediate word on what caused a blast that reportedly shook the ground and sent flames high into the sky.

The explosion happened about 9:50 a.m. north of Buena Vista at the intersection of South River Road and Old Buena Vista Road, where for years local residents had stopped for gas, hot dogs and hamburgers cooked fresh at a cafe, hunting and fishing supplies and a friendly word with whoever happened to be there.

“It pretty much was the pillar of the little community here,” Ramsey said. “When you walked in the door, everyone knew your name.”

“It is definitely a difficult day for the community.”

At the request of the Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police were investigating the cause of the blast.

“At this time it does not appear suspicious in nature,” Sgt. Rick Garletts of the state police said in an email.

Four adults were taken to Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington for injuries sustained in the explosion and subsequent fire.

Two of them were then transferred to the trauma department at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, and another was taken to a hospital outside the Carilion network, a spokeswoman for the Roanoke-based health care system said. The fourth was treated at the Lexington hospital and released.

Police and rescue officials were still working late Friday to determine if anyone else was in the building.

The convenience store next to the gas pumps was totally consumed by flames when crews arrived, Ramsey said. There were no fire hydrants in the rural community, so firefighters drew water from the nearby Chalk Mine Run.

But there was little they could do at that point. “Not a lot,” Ramsey said when asked what remained of the structure.

Ramsey could not say where the blast originated or where the victims were found. “It’s a little too soon for that,” he said.

Mountain View Elementary School, which is about a quarter-mile away, was evacuated and closed for the rest of the day as a precautionary measure. Students were taken to Rockbridge County High School, where they were picked up by their parents.

No other buildings in the area were evacuated. Several roads were closed as officials continued to investigate the explosion and fire.

In nearby Buena Vista, Robert Keiser said South River Market was a classic old country store.

“That’s the kind of place you pulled in and left your key in the car,” said Keiser, the owner of Keiser’s Appliances. “There’s just no crime in that area.”

In addition to carrying the normal merchandise of a convenience store — gas, ice, food and the like — the market was also known for its fresh local produce in the summer. A small deli offered sliced meat and bologna.

As one of the few businesses in the rural area, the store was a regular stopping place for local residents as well as out-of-towners looking for supplies to take on their hunting, fishing or hiking trips.

By early Friday afternoon, Keiser had put up a message on the sign in front of his business.

It said on one side, “Our prayers for South River Market” and on the other, “Our prayers with SRM victims.”

Staff writer Alison Graham contributed to this report.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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