Humberto Vidal Building Explosion, 1996

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  • In November, 1996 a gas line explosion ripped through the Humberto Vidal building in the Rios Piedras commercial district in San Juan , Puerto Rico injuring 85 people and killing 30.
  • Within hours one of FEMA's urban search-and-rescue (US&R) task forces was deployed to the scene to help search for survivors of the deadly blast. After assessing the damaged six-floor structure, an additional 31-person task force and a 23-person incident support team were requested to help with rescue operations.
  • The teams worked to remove debris that impeded operations and shore up the damaged structure. After clearing rubble, the teams made openings in the partially collapsed fourth, fifth and sixth floors, then fed cable through the building for structural support. The teams then linked the cables to a crane, and went to work removing a number of large concrete slabs overhanging the primary search area.
  • After stabilizing the structure, US&R teams searched the building carefully to locate victims trapped inside. In a week of grueling labor the FEMA US&R teams extricated 10 bodies, and identified the location of an 11th victim in an area of the building deemed too unsafe to perform recovery operations.
  • After nearly a week of round-the-clock effort, the building was deemed too unstable to continue operations and FEMA search teams were sent home. Search dogs had indicated possible victims in several areas of the building, which were marked for search and possible recovery by local responders once the building had been razed by implosion.
Last Updated: 
10/06/2012 - 10:00