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After Explosion, Greenwood Must 'Rise From The Ashes' Again

Roommates Daniel Miller and Alex Sokolowski faced flaming debris and an exploding fish tank in their home near the blast.
KUOW Photo/Amy Radil
Roommates Daniel Miller and Alex Sokolowski faced flaming debris and an exploding fish tank in their home near the blast.

Greenwood business owners and residents are working to clean up and repair blown-out windows after a massive natural gas explosion. They’re also waiting for access to closed streets and buildings and for news on the investigation.

Roommates Daniel Miller and Alex Sokolowski were some of the closest witnesses to the gas explosion that rocked the neighborhood around 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday. They live in a penthouse apartment over the Mexican restaurant Gorditos.

Before the blast, Miller spoke to firefighters on the street, who told him they were investigating a gas leak.  Miller said the smell of gas was overwhelming.

“I just went upstairs and I was watching them mess with it and you could audibly hear the gas coming out of the ground. It sounded like a street sweeper or a jet engine, just rushing out,” Miller said.

Then came the explosion.

“It came through the window and just blew out all the windows in the entire house, and took the sheetrock down from the ceiling," Miller said. "And then flaming debris inside the house and on the deck patio that we have, too.”

Miller’s roommate, Alex Sokolowski, was asleep in the apartment when the blast occurred. 

“It blew my doors off the hinges the opposite way," Sokolowski said. "I have a big fish tank and that popped and all the fish are dead.” 

Miller and Sokolowski stomped out the small fires and then evacuated, waiting to be allowed to return to their apartment from behind the crime scene tape. It was only after he left the building that Sokolowski realized he wasn’t wearing matching shoes. 

[asset-images[{"caption": "Alex Sokolowski grabbed mismatched shoes as he left his apartment after the explosion.", "fid": "124740", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201603/shoes.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Amy Radil"}]]Natalia Pierson and her two roommates live just east of Greenwood. When their windows blew out, she said their neighbors sprang into action.  

“All of our neighbors were out and we don’t have tools, but they did.  And they helped board up our windows, especially since our landlords can’t come out because all this area is blocked off, so it was just amazing,” Pierson said.

Elsewhere along Greenwood Avenue, business owners hurried to replace the plastic sheeting in their windows with plywood. 

Davey Oil had to survey his business, the G&O Family Cyclery, from across the street. There were still bikes in the missing display windows, but it wasn’t clear whether the building was sound. Still, he said he expects to reopen there or nearby. 

The buildings south of his shop were a different story.  

“Neptune Coffee isn’t even there anymore. Mr. Gyros is like a smoking hole. That’s the real loss,” Oil said. A Quik Stop convenience store was also destroyed. In all, Seattle officials said 36 businesses had suffered damage.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Taproot Theatre lost letters from its marquee in the gas leak explosion on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.", "fid": "124739", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201603/Taproot.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Amy Radil"}]]This is a neighborhood that also suffered a string of arson fires in 2009. One of those arson fires destroyed two restaurants and caused extensive smoke and water damage to Taproot Theatre.

Nikki Visel, Taproot’s marketing director, said the community’s support – financial and emotional – was really vital to them then.  “It meant a lot to us to feel our neighbors rallying around us, even if they were events that were going to raise $1,000 and we had a $2 million problem.”

Visel said between the fires and the recession, the business district in Greenwood was “a ghost town” for a while. The theater placed a mural over the damage.  But Taproot rebuilt, and in recent months she said the whole neighborhood had been vibrant with new businesses coming in.

A piece of the mural, depicting a phoenix rising, is now in the beer garden at Naked City Brewery nearby. Visel said she’s already working with the brewery to help the latest victims.

“The fundraiser that we’re going to do with Naked City, we’re going to call the beer the Phoenix Rising Pale Ale. Because Greenwood knows about rising from the ashes,” she said.

At least, she said, Greenwood has the collective knowledge of how to cope after a disaster like this. She said affected business owners have already told her they’ll be in touch soon.  

Year started with KUOW: 2005