Explosion rocks tower in busy downtown area

YOUNGSTOWN, OH – A massive explosion rocked the Realty Tower building at the intersection of Market and East Federal Streets on Tuesday afternoon, injuring seven people and leaving two others unaccounted for. The blast, which occurred at approximately 2:45 p.m., has raised concerns about the structural integrity of the historic building, according to city officials.

Youngstown Fire Chief Barry Finley confirmed that no fatalities have been reported, but a man and a woman are still missing. One of the missing individuals is believed to be a Chase Bank employee, as the bank occupies the building’s first floor. The cause of the explosion remains unknown, although speculation about a natural gas leak circulated throughout the day.

“We have Dominion Energy on site checking their lines,” Finley said during a press conference held on the steps of the Mahoning County Courthouse. “At this point, we don’t know what caused the explosion, but we do know it caused significant damage to the building’s lower levels.”

Charles Shasho, the deputy director of public works, noted visible damage to some of the building’s structural beams. He emphasized that a thorough assessment by engineers will be necessary to determine the full extent of the damage. Meanwhile, firefighters conducted a meticulous search of the building, ensuring that all occupants were evacuated and transported to the hospital if needed.

Residents of the adjacent International Towers were temporarily evacuated but allowed to return by early evening. Robin Lees, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency, coordinated the evacuation efforts, with the American Red Cross providing support to displaced residents.

Jeff Magada, executive director of the non-profit Flying HIGH Inc., witnessed the explosion from his office across the street. He described seeing a cloud of dust and hearing a hissing noise, which he attributed to a possible gas leak. Surveillance footage captured the moment of the blast, showing debris being hurled into the street and windows shattering in nearby buildings.

The Realty Tower, a 13-story building with a mix of condominiums and apartments, will remain off-limits to residents until further notice. The building, which has a storied history dating back 104 years, was the first in downtown Youngstown to offer upscale apartments when it opened in 2009. It was sold in 2018 to Yo Properties 47 LLC, a company that owns several downtown properties.

As the investigation continues, the community remains on edge, awaiting answers about the cause of the explosion and the fate of the missing individuals.