Disaster Downtown

Bozeman has worked hard to maintain an active downtown area, unlike many small towns whose downtown dies as chain stores build up in malls around the periphery. Downtown was dealt a serious blow at 8:15 the morning of March 5 when a tremendous explosion destroyed four historic buildings on Main Street near the city center. The buildings housed at least 7 businesses. Here are links detailing the event:

The force of the blast broke windows for blocks and was felt miles away. At home, we noticed lights flicker twice (apparently there were actually two explosions) and learned hours later it was one of the side-effects of the event.

In a small town, one cannot help have but few degrees of separation from such an event. Two nephews of a friend were doing plumbing work on a building two blocks away and were quickly on scene to shut off many gas feeds. They reported bricks and other debris raining from the sky long after the blast. Another friend was at work in the bank across the street; the bank was undergoing renovation and the front was clad in sheets of plywood, shielding it from the worst effects of the blast. Ironically, they were having a safety meeting at the time. The Rocking R Bar was destroyed in the blast and is owned by a family living close by in the Canyon.

Shortly after the blast it was determined one person was missing. Incredibly, there were no other serious injuries. Again, there were few degrees of separation: well before authorities identified the missing woman, we learned she was once half of a caretaker couple living at the property of one of our friends in the canyon. He flew back from Georgia to attend the funeral.

This event is going to have a long-lasting effect on the character and economy of the downtown. We had planned to have dinner with friends the following Friday night at a restaurant one block from the blast. These plans were cancelled, then reinstated late Friday afternoon when we learned the restaurant planned to open. Streets for blocks around were closed but we were able to park and walk to the restaurant through the emergency vehicles, police and National Guard securing the area. We were greeted by a staff very happy to see customers. When we left, there were many empty tables in a place normally packed on a Friday night.

Among the businesses destroyed were: A few doors east from the blast site is Vino per tutti, our favorite wine shop. It was completely undamaged, perhaps due to their unique racking system.