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5 hurt, including 3 JMU students, in blast at Harrisonburg shopping center near 10-mile race

5 hurt, including 3 JMU students, in blast at Harrisonburg shopping center near 10-mile race

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Explosion Virginia

Firefighters battle flames at a shopping center early Saturday in Harrisonburg. Officials say an explosion and subsequent fire at the shopping center has injured a few people.

HARRISONBURG — At least 5 people, including 3 college students, were injured Saturday morning by an explosion at a shopping center in Harrisonburg, according to officials at James Madison University.

The cause of the explosion remains unknown, but a city spokesman said there’s no evidence of foul play.

Calls about an explosion and fire at Miller Circle, right off South Main Street, started coming in shortly before 8:30 a.m., said Michael Parks, a city spokesman.

The building — a strip mall style, two story complex — was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.

JMU student Jaren Billups said he heard a loud bang around 8:20 a.m. that felt like someone had driven a car into his townhouse. He walked outside to see a black column of smoke from a distance.

Parks said a second and third alarm was called in to assist with the fire. In addition to the Harrisonburg fire and police departments, reinforcements were called in from the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad, Virginia State Police and the fire departments from Rockingham, Broadway and Bridgewater.

Caitlyn Read, JMU’s spokeswoman, said the injured consisted of three students and two who were unaffiliated with the university. The two who aren’t students were found in serious condition and were taken to the local hospital before being flown to UVA Medical Center, Parks said.

They were in stable condition as of Saturday afternoon, Parks said, and the city has started talking to them about what happened.

At the time of the explosion, Read said 30 people with JMU’s ROTC program — mostly students — were running a 10-mile U.S. Army race. The finish line was close to where the explosion and subsequent fire erupted, Read said.

Parks said the students injured were a part of the race.

The students’ injuries were minor. Two were treated at the scene, Read said. The other was taken to the hospital and has been released, Parks said.

Parks said a search of the complex has been completed and no other victims were found. Parks said the city has no reason to believe there are any others, but was searching the area a second time to be sure.

The building was destroyed by the fire, Parks said. A wall left standing had to be taken down as firefighters worked to put out the flames.

Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted that state emergency personnel had been deployed to the area after what he called a gas explosion. But the city’s fire chief told reporters the cause remained under investigation.

The building in question is home to Blue Sprocket Sound, Element Vapor, Hair Palace, Harrisonburg Halal Market and Sweets, and Hometown Music, according to JMU’s student newspaper The Breeze.

Tweets from The Breeze said after four hours of working to extinguish the flames, the fire department was still at work.

Read said the university has been in touch with those affected and has offered support to not only those directly involved, but other students as well.

Harrisonburg, in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, is a city of around 50,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

achurch@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6572

Twitter: @abbschurch

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