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Explosion near Santa Monica Jewish temple was accidental

April 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Santa Monica police said an explosion Thursday near a Jewish school and prayer house was caused by some type of mechanical failure and not a bomb.

The blast was reported about 6:45 a.m. in the 1400 block of 17th Street, according to the Santa Monica Police Department. Initial reports of a possible pipe bomb triggered a massive response from authorities including members of the Santa Monica Police and Fire departments, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department bomb squad and even the FBI.

"I thought maybe it had something to do with the temple or it's hate crime or something like that," said resident Janti Rashti.

By 11 a.m., authorities had ruled out foul play saying the explosion was a complete accident with perhaps no one to blame.

The blast shattered windows at the Chabad House Lubavitch of Santa Monica and launched a 300-pound pipe into the roof of a home next door where Rashti and her 11-year-old daughter were asleep.

"I woke up with a sound, like a booming sound and a little bit of shaking, actually I think a lot of shaking," said Rashti.

"She told me to get out of the house and then we saw like this big pipe thingy in the roof, my first thought was aliens," said her daughter, Eliana Lieberman.

Authorities said the 4-foot pipe imbedded in concrete was sitting inside a plastic trash bin when somehow it went airborne, first slamming into the back wall of the Chabbad then landing on the roof next door, directly above where the little girl was sleeping.

"It's not a terrorist act, it's not hate crime. Right now it's an industrial accident that was really a freak thing that happened when you consider a 300-pound object was moved in the air and landed on a roof," said Santa Monica Fire Capt. Judah Mitchell.

Rabbi Eli Levitansky said he was conducting a prayer service for about 20 people when they heard a boom, but they weren't worried until they saw the response from authorities.

"It wasn't anything of an explosion like you'd imagine. It was in the back of the building while the services were in the front so nothing alarming," said Rabbi Levitansky. "The alarming part was when the fire department and the police department came and evacuated us from the building. Then we realized that something serious might have happened and we continued services on the street."

No injuries were reported. About 100 people were evacuated from nearby homes and businesses while bomb experts investigated.

Investigators were trying to figure out what exactly propelled that pipe into the air. They believe there was some chemical reaction at the bottom of the trash bin that built up pressure under the pipe and sent it flying. Now they have to figure out what those chemicals were.