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The Tragedy In Durham

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A tough day for a city many of us love dearly

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Vivid Cherry Blossom In Bonn Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Like us, we know a lot of you have spent carefree hours around the Brightleaf Square area in Durham. Located on West Main Street, it’s in a historic part of downtown where the trains used to come in to haul Bull Durham Tobacco out and then send it around the world.

In recent times, between Brightleaf, the old Durham Athletic Park and the new DBAP (Durham Bulls Athletic Park), not to mention the DPAC (Durham Performing Arts Center) and the American Tobacco Campus project and other great places, that area has been revived and become a real treasure of Durham and the Triangle.

On Wednesday morning, just as Durham was celebrating its 150th anniversary, someone doing construction accidentally pierced a 2” gas line under a sidewalk on North Duke Street and shortly after that a blast shook the area that was reportedly felt as far away as Southpoint Mall, some 8.6 miles away.

The impact was primarily felt on North Duke Street where one building is simply gone. One of the firefighters said that he worked on 9/11 at the Pentagon and that, in a much smaller way, the damage reminded him of that.

There is one death so far and with luck it will stay at one, not that that’s much comfort to the family of Kong Lee, who perished Wednesday’s blast.

Mr. Lee started the coffee shop Kaffeinate with his family and it became a real neighborhood treasure.

Here is a before and after of the building his business was in and here is video of the conflagration.

The good news in this is that the Durham School of the Arts is not too far away but was spared any damage or casualties. Some of the classrooms appear to face the area of the explosion and it’s quite possible that some of the children witnessed the explosion.

On a much smaller scale, a world class Porsche collection was housed nearby and appears to have been damaged and possibly destroyed. Cars are of minimal concern compared to the injured and to what the Lee family is dealing with, but a number of them were of significant historical value and losing history is always a pity.

A lot more will be clear over the next few days but for now, our deepest condolences to the the Lee family and we hope that all the injured fully recover.

And of course catastrophe reminds us very quickly of how much all of us rely on the first responders. They were out again, putting themselves in danger before their own safety was assured.

How can you even begin to express the respect and thanks these people deserve? They’re the very best of us and there is really no way to express the gratitude people feel for their help much less the awe for those who are willing to put their lives on the line for others. But we should try anyway.

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