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Escaping the explosion

In the early hours of March 13, fifth-year MTU students Zbigniew Bell and Paul Kovacic were settling in for the night in their 908 College Ave. apartment. That was until they heard a long bang, followed by an explosion that launched them three feet in the air.  “It took me a second to realize what was happening after getting knocked up,“ stated Bell. “Then my roommate started yelling, ‘Get out! Get out! Get out!’” Immediately, the two scrambled to leave their apartment. Bell and Kovacic dashed down to the ground floor where they were greeted by a thick blanket of smoke. They crouched down to the ground and bolted to the front door until they heard a voice yell out in the distance.

Operating only on instincts, Bell and Kovacic abandoned their own rescue mission after they realized the voice belonged to their elderly neighbors, Al and Debbie. The two managed to get to Al and Debbie’s door when they realized something was terribly wrong. As a result of the explosion, the floor tiles were jutting upward and prevented the door from swinging out.  Bell and Kovacic rushed to grab the side of the door and pulled it towards them in an attempt to free it from its hinges. Once the two forced the door open, Debbie took their hands and was guided out of her building. In the process, Kovacic made sure to remain in communication with Al, and the elderly man was able to get out before the fire began to eclipse the building.

Soon the other survivors began to trickle out of the inflamed building and emergency personnel arrived. It was at this point Kovacic realized how dire the situation had become. “I turned around and looked at the entire building and the light in the back started to get brighter and brighter. That’s when I started to feel fear for everyone.” Emergency responders quickly arrived on the scene and evacuated the tenants from the premises. According to Bell and Kovacic, it only took ten minutes from the time of the explosion for the apartment complex to burn down to the ground.

On that same night, Bell and Kovacic relocated to Daniell Heights, courtesy of Michigan Tech, where they will stay until June 30 free of charge. But, Michigan Tech didn’t stop there. The university immediately provided clothing and food from the HuskyFAN pantry. Additionally, Michigan Tech provided the two with meal swipes and emergency funds. Bell and Kovacic both emphasized how grateful they were for all the support they received including that from the university, their friends, and Bell’s place of work, Suomi’s.

Amidst all the tragedy, there have been signs of hope. Since their apartment burnt down, Bell and Kovacic have met up with Debbie and Al. Bell mentioned that through their tears “they were able to share stories about when we were there, and there was an appreciation for us being able to be there and being able to help them out.” Kovacic reflected that he was “so glad we could actually hug them and just be there with them. ” As for next year, Kovacic already has a place lined up, while Bell is debating on heading to Europe for the summer because after all, he chuckled, “…my packing list just got a whole lot shorter.”


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