COLUMBIA — Phil Leibu was working in the basement of Schweitzer Hall when he heard a large explosion and saw debris falling on the ground through his window.
The Columbia Fire Department received a call of a possible structure fire at 2:20 p.m. on Monday after a 2,000 pound hydrogen tank exploded on the third floor of Schweitzer Hall, 503 S. College Ave., said Columbia Fire Department Capt. Eric Hartman.
Four injured people who were in the building were taken to area hospitals, including one person in critical condition who was taken the University Hospital. The Columbia Fire Department has not released the names of the victims or if they were students or faculty.
The building was evacuated and Hartman said the fire was contained in about 10 minutes. Fire crews then began working to ventilate chemicals. Hartman said the fire alarm was triggered and the building's fire sprinklers were activated.
Jeanie Phipps, an administrative assistant in Mumford Hall, said she heard a loud boom.
"I didn't really look. I thought it was something with a truck," she said because there is construction on campus.
She received an e-mail alert about the explosion and went outside to see what was going on. Several small groups of people were watching the scene while the fire department was investigating, she said.
There was significant damage to the building with glass and debris falling to the ground, Hartman said. All the windows on one corner of the building were broken. He said investigators were on the scene and at University Hospital interviewing a victim.
The explosion occurred in a lab used for experiments with bacteria and hydrogen. Hartman said he is unsure whether the hydrogen tank was being used at the time of the explosion. He said the department is taking precautions against any potentially hazardous chemicals.