Emergency workers continued to search for a missing woman in the rubble covering half of a downtown city block Friday after an explosion Thursday flattened several Main Street businesses.
Recovery operations were suspended Friday night for safety concerns, but will begin again this morning, said Bozeman Fire Chief Jason Shrauger.
The search is challenging and dangerous work.
Well have to go through the debris pile, literally stick by stick, brick by brick, said assistant city manager Chuck Winn.
Search dogs and their handlers joined the search Friday as emergency workers sifted through debris, searching for the woman authorities have so far declined to identify.
* Its a pretty broad area, Shrauger said. Its a complicated and difficult task theyre trying to accomplish.
NorthWestern Energy shut off leaking natural gas around midnight Thursday and firefighters subsequently doused the blaze, enabling crews to shift from emergency response to investigation and recovery Friday morning, Winn said.
The power company, the Montana Public Service Commission, investigators with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local fire officials are attempting to recreate the circumstances leading up the explosion that rocked downtown Bozeman shortly after 8 a.m., Thursday.
More than 70 firefighters from departments throughout Gallatin County responded to the incident, said City Manager Chris Kukulski.
They dropped their real jobs to come over and help us, he said.
The response from emergency workers and city and county employees has just been fantastic, he added. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that this organization is meeting the needs of the community.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., toured the area Thursday afternoon and promised to provide as much assistance as possible to the city and affected business owners.
Ive never seen anything like this in my life, Tester said while watching workers pick through the wreckage. I dont care if I ever see it again. Its just unbelievable - that five businesses in the middle of the city were there one minute and gone the next.
Hawthorne Elementary School students were back in class as usual Friday, Bozeman school superintendent Kirk Miller said. The children were evacuated to the Bozeman Public Library Thursday afternoon when winds shifted, sending smoke in the schools direction.
Our students are having a regular day, Miller said.
Miller, who has been in Bozeman for about a year and half, said he was impressed with the response and cooperation between local agencies, the school district and parents.
The community showed its true colors yesterday, he said.
It is great to be in a community that clearly demonstrates the ability to face adversity with solutions and resolve to help those who are impacted by the event n another example of the quality way of life in Bozeman, Miller wrote in a letter posted on the districts Web site.
Stephanie Nelson, head of the Gallatin City-County Health Department, said Friday morning that she was not aware of any increase in respiratory illnesses in the area due to smoke from the fire, but encouraged people to remain cautious.
The air quality was very much a concern, she said. Air quality is still compromised.
A document about air-quality safety is posted on the citys Web site (bozeman.net) where authorities say they will also be posting updated information about the explosion and clean-up on a regular basis.
City building inspectors have been busy assessing the damage to structures near the blast zone.
Authorities said that North Bozeman Avenue would remain closed indefinitely until the structural integrity of the building at the corner on Main Street can be determined. The historic building, home to the Rocky Mountain Rug Gallery, appears to have sustained significant damage.
Friday afternoon Winn said most of the businesses along Main Street will be able to reopen Saturday morning, although those located directly across from the blast site will need to be accessed from the alley on the south side of Main Street.
There will be no pedestrian or vehicular traffic permitted on the Main Street block between Bozeman and Rouse streets for an indeterminate time until the investigation is complete and investigators determine what happened, how it happened and to prevent it from happening again, Winn said.
Kukulski said it is important for people to respect the exclusion zone on Main Street and not come downtown just to see the devastation.
Its critical that businesses across from the scene work with the city, he said. We beg people not to come downtown to gawk but eagerly encourage them to come down and patronize the businesses there.
We understand this is a hardship in these tough economic times, Winn said. But we want to (reopen downtown) in the safest and most expeditious manner possible.