Three unidentified suspects are being questioned after a powerful explosion caused by a gas leak in a Jaffa construction materials store late Monday night killed three people, and lightly injured at least five others.
The explosion, which caused the Yeffet Street building to collapse, could be heard as far away as central Tel Aviv, several kilometers away.
At least six Fire and Rescue Services teams, multiple police units, and the Home Front Command were called in to contain the blaze and secure the scene in the Ajami neighborhood.
According to police, two men, identified as Ali Abu Jama, 22, and Rimon Huri, 20, were declared dead at the scene.
Huri, a resident of Jaffa, was buried in the debris; Jama, who lived in an apartment adjacent to the explosion, was killed when his roof collapsed.
A third unidentified victim in his 40s, who sustained third-degree burns over his entire body, died after being rushed to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.
“We treated the injured man, approximately 40 years-old, who was unconscious and suffering from multi-organ injury,” recounted MDA paramedic Matan Moshe Doshi. “He was suffering from blast injuries and burns all over his body.”
Five others were treated by Magen David Adom first-responders for shock and light injuries, police said.
The area surrounding the store was cordoned off until firefighters contained and extinguished the blaze.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said an investigation into the explosion has been launched, but that terrorism has been ruled out after Fire and Rescue Services investigators said it was likely caused by a gas leak from an unlicensed cylinder attached to the building.
“Police and emergency units, including forensics and bomb-disposal experts, arrived at the scene and immediately tried to determine the cause of the explosion, which was the gas cylinder,” said Rosenfeld.
“When the rubble was removed, two bodies were discovered and the third man was rushed to hospital with burns all over his body. We have ruled out that it was a terrorist attack and the main focus of the investigation is that it was a gas leak.
We are also looking to see if the business was being operated without a license.”
Dr. Batya Ludman, a clinical psychologist, and Dorit Mayerfeld, a clinical social worker, both of whom volunteer with United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit, described the scene of the explosion.
“When we were called to the scene, we didn’t know whether it was a mass-casualty incident from a physical or psychological injury perspective, or both,” said Ludman on Tuesday.
“Last night, when I was at the call, I met a woman who was sitting on the step of a storefront with another woman.
While she seemed composed, she certainly was suffering from the trauma of the explosion. I went up to her and made the connection. I let her know that we were there to help her and that her basic needs were being met.”
According to Ludman, the woman’s husband and children were in the building next door when the explosion blew out their windows.
“While she sounded fine from her physical mannerisms, I could tell that something wasn’t right,” Ludman continued.
“She needed to be reassured that her needs would be met and it was my job to figure out what those needs were. Sometimes, even when a person tells you they are okay, we need to make sure that they are functioning in the ‘now.’” Ludman and Mayerfeld were among eight Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit responders who came from Ra’anana, Tel Aviv, and as far away as Jerusalem to support victims of the blast.
Police forensics teams remained at the scene Tuesday afternoon as the investigation into the blast continues, said Rosenfeld.