BUENA VISTA — A fiery explosion destroyed a gas station at a country crossroads just north of Buena Vista on Friday morning, killing at least two people and injuring four.
The two victims were found in the rubble of what used to be the South River Market, according to Nathan Ramsey, director of the Rockbridge County Fire and EMS Department.
Authorities had not identified those killed or injured by Friday evening, as the search continued for others who remained unaccounted for.
There was no immediate word on what caused the blast, which reportedly shook the ground and sent flames high into the sky.
The explosion happened about 9:50 a.m. at the intersection of South River Road and Old Buena Vista Road, where for years local residents had stopped for gas, hot dogs and hamburgers cooked fresh at a cafe, or for hunting and fishing supplies and a friendly word with whoever happened to be there.
“It pretty much was the pillar of the little community here,” Ramsey said. “When you walked in the door, everyone knew your name.”
“It is definitely a difficult day for the community,” he added.
At the request of the Rockbridge Sheriff’s Office, state police were investigating the cause of the blast.
“At this time it does not appear suspicious in nature,” Sgt. Rick Garletts of the Virginia State Police said in an email.
Four adults were taken to Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington for injuries suffered in the explosion and subsequent fire.
Two of them were then transferred to the trauma department at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, and another was taken to a hospital outside the Carilion network, a spokeswoman for the Roanoke-based health care system said. The fourth patient was treated at the Lexington hospital and released.
Police and rescue officials were still working late Friday to determine whether anyone else was in the building.
The convenience store next to the gas pumps was totally consumed by flames when crews arrived, Ramsey said. There were no fire hydrants in the rural community, so firefighters drew water from nearby Chalk Mine Run.
But there was little they could do at that point. When asked what remained of the structure, Ramsey said: “Not a lot.”
Ramsey could not say where the blast originated or where the victims were found. “It’s a little too soon for that,” he said.
In nearby Buena Vista, Robert Keiser said South River Market was a classic old country store.
“That’s the kind of place you pulled in and left your key in the car,” said Keiser, the owner of Keiser’s Appliances. “There’s just no crime in that area.”
In addition to carrying the normal merchandise of a convenience store — gas, ice, food and the like — the market was also known for its fresh local produce in the summer. A small deli offered sliced meat.
By early Friday afternoon, Kessler had changed the sign in front of his business.
On one side, it said: “Our prayers for South River Market.” And on the other: “Our prayers with SRM victims.”