- Priest found by firefighters hugging his burned bible
- Four people died and seven injured after the accident allegedly caused by a boiler.
Gabriel Benedicto, a priest who worked in the headquarters of the Archbishopric of Madrid on C/Toledo, was found by firefighters, still in his office, directly above the epicentre of the gas explosion, just one floor above the exploded boiler that practically destroyed the entire building.
“It was a miracle, it was a miracle.” This was all that Gabriel Benedicto could say when the firefighters found him hugging a completely burned out bible as they entered his room, following the violent explosion that claimed the lives of four people and injured seven others.
A minute before three in the afternoon, several fire stations in Madrid received the emergency call informing them of a violent explosion in the heart of the capital.
The first calls advised of an explosion that had left a large part of C/Toledo devastated, completely strewn with rubble and ash. The building had literally exploded into the air.
First thoughts during the ensuing confusion were that the site of the explosion was a Care Home for the elderly in a building adjacent to the Archbishopric.
It was only as the smoke and dust began to dissipate, that it was possible to appreciate which parts of the structure had been affected, how, literally, the top floors of the religious building had disappeared, with only the pillars of the structure still being visible.
The cause is reported as a gas boiler which during the mid-afternoon was being inspected in the basement of the church building by two engineers.
The heating system was fired by gas and apparently, prior to the maintenance work it is thought that there could have been a small, undetected, leak. Gas, being lighter than air, had been rising through the building for some time and at one point, the third, fourth and fifth floors of the building were thought to be full of gas, the explanation that is currently being considered following the explosions that completely devastated the top three floors.
From the dozens of images released following the blast it is also possible to see the fire in the basement of the building. At this time, and in the absence of a detailed report, firefighters believe that there were two explosions: a smaller one that directly affected the ground floor and the other, much larger, which was fed by the gas that had been accumulating in the upper floors.
As the explosions occurred the exact location of each individual within the building made a difference to the injuries they each suffered. The boiler was installed in the basement of the building, while the office area was on the ground floor, directly above and just metres away from the heating system.
One of the priests working in the archbishopric was in his room and another was walking down the stairwell, both of them survived the explosion. But the one for who the outcome really was a miracle is Gabriel Benedicto, a 40-year-old priest who firefighters found in his office, shaking and hugging his burned out bible.
He was covered in debris and surrounded by emerging flames. And Gabriel sat in the middle of it all, completely unharmed, alive and well, because “this has been a miracle”, as he could not stop repeating to the firefighters who rescued him.
He was just a few metres away from the boiler, the origin of the explosion, just one floor above it, two floors below the other floors that were destroyed by the explosion of accumulated gas.
Unfortunately many other people in the building didn’t share in his good fortune.