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Durham businesses damaged in gas explosion can now seek federal relief money

What businesses are impacted by the Durham explosion?

It will likely take some time to determine the full financial fallout from Wednesday’s deadly gas explosion in downtown Durham that left one person dead and more than two dozen others injured. More than $100 million worth of property was damaged.
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It will likely take some time to determine the full financial fallout from Wednesday’s deadly gas explosion in downtown Durham that left one person dead and more than two dozen others injured. More than $100 million worth of property was damaged.

The U.S. Small Business Administration said Tuesday that it is making federal loans available to businesses damaged by the April 10 gas explosion that killed two people in Durham.

The SBA made the disaster declaration — which allows business owners to take out low-interest government loans to pay for bills, repairs and other expenses — after Gov. Roy Cooper requested assistance in the wake of the deadly gas explosion, which ripped apart the 100 block of North Duke Street near downtown Durham.

Kong Lee, 61, the owner of Kaffeinate coffee shop, was killed in the explosion that destroyed the shop’s building. A second person, PSNC utility worker Jay Rambeaut, died last week from injuries from the blast.

In total, 18 buildings with a total tax value of $108.6 million were damaged, including two that are now condemned. A total of 23 businesses were affected, according to Downtown Durham Inc.

Cooper requested the disaster declaration on April 19 after visiting the site. In a letter to the SBA, Cooper described the explosion as having “consumed an entire city block causing heavy damage to nine businesses, destroying four businesses and impacting the operations of surrounding businesses.”

The disaster declaration gives access to loans of up to $2 million for eligible small business and nonprofit organizations, the governor’s office said in a release. The interest rates on the loans are below 4%, and businesses will have up to 30 years to repay.

The SBA says there are no upfront fees for the loans or early payment penalties.

Businesses affected by the blast have until Jan. 30, 2020 to apply for the loans.

Businesses can apply online for assistance at bit.ly/1nLaQ6G.

The N.C. Department of Labor is currently reviewing the actions of the Durham Fire Department and five companies associated with the explosion, The News & Observer reported Monday. Durham officials have previously said the explosion could have been caused by a fiber contractor hitting a gas line during a dig.

The Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Division is inspecting the actions of Dominion Energy NC, parent company of PSNC Energy; Optic Cable Technology Inc.; PS Splicing; Tower Engineering; and Crown Castle, according to an email from the department.

The investigation will determine whether procedures for marking utility lines and drilling were followed, and whether emergency evacuation procedures were in place.

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.
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