At 14:56 on January 20th, Puerta de Toledo residents witnessed a boom so loud their apartments shook and birds flew off roofs. 

A seven-floor building, number 98 on calle de Toledo, had just exploded. The top four floors were destroyed. 

Confusion followed. I live across the street from the building, in a tiny apartment on the top floor. I had just finished class and I was sitting at my desk. First I heard the noise, then my apartment felt like it was shifting quickly back and forth. Then, there was a brief silence. 

My windows face away from the street, so I couldn’t see the damage. My mind raced, as did everyone else’s who heard and eventually saw the explosion. It felt like a bomb or an earthquake. I called my friend who lives in Chueca to see if she had heard anything. She hadn’t. This made me think, maybe, it was just some snow that had fallen off the roof. 

Outside my window, I saw people running towards the accident, but I still didn’t know what they were looking at. People were gathering and taking pictures. Police started running towards the scene. Firetrucks and ambulances followed.

People gathering near the explosion – view from my apartment.

My friend checked Twitter and I saw her face drop: “A building exploded”, she said. 

The building was home to the Church of the Virgen de la Paloma parish. Inside, it held offices, a charity organization, a living room, a meeting area, and housing for priests. Next to the building are a school and an old people’s home. 

No one in the school or the old people’s home were seriously injured. Last week’s snowstorm protected the children, who would normally have been on the playground at the time the explosion occurred. 

They had only returned to school that same day after a long Christmas break due to the storm, but there was too much snow left outside. So, this inconvenient and unprecedented storm also potentially saved the lives of the kids who were right next to the building when the building exploded. 

All of the residents in the old people’s home were evacuated and sent to a nearby hotel. 

Four people died from the explosion, which authorities say was caused by a gas leak. 

The building smelled of gas all morning and the heat wasn’t working. The parish called David Santos Muñoz, a technician they had often called before. Santos Muñoz, a 35-year old, was fixing a boiler when it exploded. He was killed in the explosion and leaves behind his wife, Sara, and their four children.

Rubén Pérez de Ayala, the priest who called Santos Muñoz to look at the boiler, was one of the victims. They were inspecting the boiler together. Pérez was 36 years old. The other two victims were passersby. Javier Gandía was a 45-year old bricklayer who worked across the street. He was married and had two children. The last victim was Ivanov Korhev, a Spanish citizen from Bulgaria. He would have turned 47 yesterday, January 21st.

At least ten people were injured. Chunks of debris fell on the cars lining the streets. On the day of the explosion, firefighters stayed on the scene all night to make sure no one and nothing else would be harmed. The area has been blocked off. In the coming future, the building will remain as a tangible reminder of the tragedy and destruction that occurred. 

Cover photo: JAIME VILLANUEVA

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