Las Vegas Sun

July 22, 2019

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UNR dorm rocked by gas blast looks like earthquake scene

UNR Dorm Explosion

Scott Sonner / AP

Structural engineers with experience responding to earthquakes and natural disasters are helping experts at UNR with efforts to rebuild this dormitory, Thursday, July 11, 2019, where a natural gas explosion blew out walls and windows last week.

Updated Thursday, July 11, 2019 | 7:05 p.m.

RENO — The first look at the damage inside provided to local media since a natural gas explosion blew out walls and windows at a UNR dormitory last week reaffirmed earlier descriptions from school officials who likened it to the scene of a major earthquake.

Structural engineers who have worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency responding to earthquakes and other disasters already were helping school officials lay the groundwork Thursday to rebuild the dorm rocked by the July 5 natural gas blast that followed a smaller explosion in a basement boiler.

"It's something I'd never seen before — something I never expected to see," UNR Police Chief Todd Renwick told reporters on Thursday before they donned hard hats to tour a portion of the first-floor cafeteria that served as the main dining hall on campus.

Sunshine pouring in through gaping holes in the walls lit the tables, chairs and floors littered with sheet rock and broken glass.

Metal doors blown off their frames hung next to pieces of light fixtures that crashed to the ground and a flat screen TV still dangling from its wall brace. But in an eerie reminder of the moment disaster struck, serving spoons were still poking upright in the salad dressing on the salad bar near a row of bagels.

Only eight people suffered minor injuries because the dorm and a neighboring one were mostly empty when the Friday afternoon blast was triggered during the long Fourth of July weekend.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak toured the same area on Wednesday and tweeted that "we are truly blessed that there were no fatalities or serious injuries."

Argenta Hall, which typically houses up to 750 students, will remain closed for at least a year, possibly two. Neighboring Nye Hall will stay closed into the fall, said Shannon Ellis, UNR vice president of student services.

But experts have determined there was little structural damage to weight-baring walls so plans for rebuilding already are underway.

UNR spokeswoman Kerri Garcia said they have a number of experts helping out from the Nevada Urban Search and Rescue Task Force who have done past work with FEMA.

UNR Executive Vice President Kevin Carman said during a briefing Tuesday the overall damage to the building was "essentially ... all superficial."

"It seems hard to believe when you look at it," he said.