The explosion blasted out the windows at Shepherd Electric Supply as pieces of the ceiling rained down and the building groaned.
Roger Sampson, an employee, had lived in earthquake-prone Los Angeles for eight years and felt a quake shake Maryland two years ago. But Tuesday afternoon, when a freight train and a truck carrying garbage collided in Rosedale just blocks from the warehouse, was different.
Workers in the building in the 7400 block of Pulaski Highway were shaking with fear, Sampson said, and he saw a few of his co-workers bleeding, one from the neck, after being hit by glass.
"That was pretty scary," Sampson said. "I've never experienced an explosion, this was a different feeling. We didn't know what was going on."
As dozens of first responders arrived, Sampson left to pick up his daughter from school. "I'm grateful that I didn't get hurt," he said.
The explosion after the train derailed near the 7500 block of Lake Drive in an industrial area in Baltimore County was felt as far north as Harford County as far south as Anne Arundel County. It frightened employees and residents nearby as huge clouds of black smoke filled the sky. The operator of the truck was in serious condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center as of late Tuesday, but no one else in the area was seriously injured, authorities said.
People nearby had varying descriptions of the explosion, which damaged several structures in the vicinity; some were fearful of a terrorist attack.
UPS delivery man Rich Gossman, who was just blocks away from the explosion, said, "It felt like it was about to push me out of my car. My ears are still ringing."
In the Maryland Manor neighborhood, a small community tucked between Pulaski Highway and the train tracks, the accident rekindled simmering resentment of the freight cars that rumble by. Their community partly blocked off, residents walked along the streets, comparing home damage — windows broken, doors blown off, foundations cracked, and shelves rocked off the walls with their shattered tchotchkes on the floor.
"They shouldn't be allowed to bring this kind of cargo here," said Wes Lego, 64, a retired Amtrak foreman, whose home lost all but about five of its windows and gained cracks in the foundation. His is one of the homes closest to the tracks.
"There's no gates. I see kids sitting on the tracks. They need a fence through this neighborhood."
Lego was shooting video of the derailment from a spot just past the edge of the property when the explosion happened.
"I saw this big flash, then I heard a boom," he said. "It knocked me on my ass — it knocked me down."
In residential neighborhoods farther out, houses shook from the explosion.
"My whole window almost came out," said Donta Jackson, 29, who lives on Orchard Ridge Boulevard. "I thought it was a missile, that we were under attack."
Howard Hooke, 61, lives about a half-mile north of the crash scene and said he was planting in his garden when the accident occurred.
"We live by the railroad yard, and sometimes you can hear the cars when they all start cranking," he said. "I thought, 'If that didn't sound like metal-to-metal.'"
The blast, Hooke said, knocked over shelves of cleaning supplies in his garage. He said there had been no police presence or warnings in his neighborhood in the wake of the derailment.
Charlene Spilker, office manager at Accurate Termite & Pest Control, was on the phone when she heard what sounded "like a bomb," while Michelle Dean of Essex also thought it was a terrorist attack and that they were "dropping bombs."
The office on Philadelphia Road — about a mile from the scene — rattled, and Spilker ran out the back door, thinking something had hit the front of the building.