Negligence could be cause of shopping centre explosion

A GAS leak sparked a massive explosion at the Empire Shopping Gallery in SS16, Subang Jaya, early yesterday, injuring four people and causing losses estimated at millions of ringgit.

Police have ruled out foul play but are looking at negligence as the cause of explosion, which also damaged buildings in the vicinity.

The explosion, which brought residents out in the streets just after 3.30am, partially damaged two commercial buildings -- Wisma Consplant 1 and 2.

At least 50 shoplots, including restaurants and outlets selling high-end items, were destroyed. Among them were international fashion brands such as Tangs, Coach, Dorothy Perkins and Guess.

The eateries included alfresco dining outlets on the lower ground floor such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, The Loaf, La Bodega, Grand Imperial Kitchen, Pasta Zanmai, Whisk and Opera.

Five vehicles were also wrecked.

The Fire and Rescue Department confirmed that a gas leak was the cause of the explosion.

The authorities believed the leak occurred at a restaurant on the lower ground floor. Investigators from government agencies, including the Energy Commission, Department of Occupational Safety and Health and the Public Works Department, were seen sifting through the debris.

Police and Civil Defence Department officials, together with more than 40 firemen, rushed to the scene when the distress call went out. Jalan SS16/1 was closed to traffic. Firemen put out the fires in five minutes.

State Fire and Rescue Department assistant operations director Mohd Sani Harul said they evacuated eight guests from the adjacent Empire Hotel, who were afraid to leave their rooms.

The management of Empire Shopping Gallery said operations were stopped pending investigations.

All guests from the hotel and small office-home office (Soho) suite were evacuated and are staying at nearby hotels in Subang Jaya.

Empire Shopping Gallery executive director Datuk Danny Cheah said it was difficult to ascertain the losses as tenants had yet to survey their premises and assess the damage.

The 5,574 sq metre Empire Shopping Gallery opened in April last year and houses 180 tenants.