- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The owners of a downtown Omaha building severely damaged by fire over the weekend hope to rebuild, but it may take several weeks to determine if the former warehouse is salvageable.

Authorities are working to determine what caused the natural gas leak that fueled Saturday’s explosion and fire, but investigators haven’t been inside the building, city officials said Monday. The four-story brick building is encased in ice from the water firefighters sprayed on the structure.

The only serious injuries were an M’s Pub employee who was taken to the hospital with cuts and a firefighter who slipped on the ice.

“The fact that there were no fatalities in this event is nothing short of a miracle,” Omaha Fire Chief Bernie Kanger said.

The building in the Old Market neighborhood stands among other former warehouses that have been renovated to hold shops, restaurants and apartments.

Workers had been digging in the area near the building to install fiber-optic lines, but Kanger said it will take time to determine whether that work was a factor in the fire.

Mayor Jean Stothert said she met with the building’s owners and they want to rebuild. She called the building a centerpiece of the Old Market neighborhood.

Whether the building survives may depend on the weather over the next few days. Jay Davis, who oversees permits and inspections for the city, said the building might sustain additional damage if the ice on it thaws and refreezes too quickly.

“If Mother Nature is nice to us, we’re not going to have any more damage on the building,” Davis said.

For now, temporary fencing is being installed around the building to keep people away.

Officials said residents of apartments in adjoining buildings might have access to their homes by the end of the week.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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