City of Durham Greets Its 150th Birthday With Celebration and Tragedy

Durham officials responded to a downtown gas leak explosion and building collapse on the same day as their sesquicentennial

On April 10, 2019, Durham celebrated its 150th birthday. It was a day that marked the beginning of a larger, year-long celebration to commemorate the city’s sesquicentennial. A day for the city to come together and share their community pride and vision for a bright future. A day that tragedy struck.

At 10:07 a.m. on April 10, a building exploded in downtown Durham.

We watched, collectively transfixed, live helicopter footage of the building as fire crews worked to extinguish the flames. We watched fire, police, emergency medical service professionals and countless other community helpers arrive on-site ready to assist. We watched the building collapse upon itself.

In the afternoon there was a news conference where numerous community leaders spoke. Each one shared the facts they had and thanked everyone for the joint efforts. I believe it was the chief of police who said something like, “We train our entire career for a day like this, that we hope never comes.” It struck me; all of these people have courageously made the choice to dedicate their lives to running toward danger.

When my son was young, he would ask me about police cars or fire trucks we saw driving fast with their lights and sirens. He wanted to know what they were doing and where they were going. I would tell him that someone was in trouble and called for help. Those were the people going to help them.

On that day the people who help showed up yet again, and they weren't just from Durham. Other neighboring communities diverted their resources into Durham to help cover for the people who were on-site at the explosion. Without hesitation, they shifted their priorities in order to make sure everyone throughout the city could continue to receive the help they needed.

I have friends and co-workers in downtown Durham who felt the blast. I work for a company that stepped up and asked, “What do you need?” to the first responders and the other businesses supporting their efforts. In wake of such tragedy, it was beautiful to see the outpouring of support that was shared.

Our collective condolences go out to the friends and family of Kaffeinate coffee shop owner Kong Lee, who died in the explosion. Our continued thoughts go out to everyone who was injured on that day. Our gratitude overflows for the men and women who put themselves in harms way that day, and every day, to keep us all safe.

The Bull City is strong. It will rebuild. The members of this community will continue to write their stories, building on the 150 years that has come before. They are inviting all of us to join their journey. Over the next year they will be celebrating their birthday with a series of events throughout the city — and you’re invited.

To learn more about how the city is celebrating please visit We are #BullCityStrong​.

Maureen Churchill works full-time outside the home and is a mom to one wonderful little boy. Her post reflects the sadness we all feel at Carolina Parent, and the collective condolences we send out to the Durham community.

Categories: Cultural, Family, Parenting, Searching for Balance