The owner of a Durham coffee shop was killed and seventeen others were injured in an explosion caused by a gas leak in Durham today – the Bull City’s 150th birthday.

Durham Fire Department Chief Robert Zoldos said emergency responders have accounted for everyone known to be in the immediate vicinity of the Kaffeinate coffee shop on North Duke Street when the explosion occurred, but that it could take “a couple of days” to fully search through the scene. 

On Wednesday night, Durham police identified the person killed in the explosion as 61-year-old Kong Lee, the owner of Kaffeinate coffee shop. 

Zoldos, a 9/11 first responder, compared the state of the collapsed building to the state of The Pentagon on September 11th “on a very, very, very small scale because it’s got the same sort of damage.” Several people who were in the area when the explosion occurred likened it to an earthquake. People working in nearby buildings reported hearing a loud boom, filing cabinets being knocked over, and thick smoke.

By Wednesday evening, a fire at the scene had been contained and responders had shifted to a search and rescue operation. 

Zoldos told reporters during a press conference Wednesday afternoon that six people were in critical condition, and one had been transferred to a burn center. Among the injured was a firefighter, Darren Wheeler, who suffered serious injuries and underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon. The other injured people have not been identified.

The coffee shop itself was leveled and several other buildings were damaged. Windows at the West Village apartments on Morgan Street – around the corner from where the explosion occurred – were blown out. The building next to Kaffeinate, which was at 115 North Duke Street, had been gutted by the force, which was captured by a nearby camera that monitors a Durham bridge.

Down the block, the Durham School of the Arts did not appear to be damaged, and no students and staff were injured, Superintendent Pascal Mubenga told reporters. However, the school will be closed Thursday while it is inspected.

The explosion occurred after a contractor digging under the sidewalk near the coffee shop struck a gas line. City officials have not released the name of the company conducting the digging, or details on the work that was being done. Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson said work has been happening in the area to install fiber lines underground, but on Wednesday afternoon city staff were still determining whether the boring happening near the coffee shop was related to fiber, and whether the work was properly permitted.

The gas leak was first reported to the fire department at 9:30 a.m. and emergency responders immediately began evacuating the area, calling in Dominion Energy to respond to the leak. The explosion occurred around 10:07 a.m., while the evacuating was still underway. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.

The Durham Fire Department, along with the Police Department, the state Fire Marshal’s office, the State Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating. Emergency responders came from Wake and Orange counties, as well as state agencies.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel arrived on the scene shortly after the explosion and saw “black billows of smoke” and a blazing fire. He described seeing firefighters fighting flames from just feet away, not knowing if there would be another explosion.

“I feel a real sense of loss and grief,” Schewel said. “It’s a very difficult day in that way but I feel something else as well – and that is a tremendous sense of gratitude.”

This is a developing story. Additional reporting by Leah Abrams.