The jail already had 2 feet of water in the basement from the record-setting rains when an explosion leveled the inside of the building. In the rubble and chaos, some inmates were trapped and had to be rescued. Others were treated for their injuries in the parking lot. In all, 600 inmates rushed out of the jail.
The injured were taken by bus to hospitals while the others were sent to nearby jails. Authorities lost track of three inmates in the confusion, but by late afternoon, they were confident everyone was accounted for.
Inmate Monique Barnes told The Associated Press she was knocked off her fourth-floor bunk.
“The explosion shook us so hard it was like we were in an earthquake,” Barnes said. “It was like a movie, a horrible, horrible movie.”
Pieces of glass, brick and inmates’ flip-flops were strewn about on the ground outside the jail. The front of the building appeared bowed, with cracks throughout. Barnes, who spoke to the Associated Press after she was taken to another jail, said she and other inmates complained of smelling gas ahead of the blast. County spokesman Bill Pearson said they didn’t receive any 911 calls about gas nor did they have any reports of an odor.
Investigators said it could take days to determine what caused the explosion. They were having a hard time getting to the epicenter in the back of the building because there was so much damage. Joseph Steadman, the head of the state fire and arson bureau, described it as a “collapse of concrete floors between the basement and upper floors.” He said it was still too early to say if the weather had anything to do with it.