‘We Are Alive’: Downtown Explosion a Harrowing Experience for Family

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Deanna Rossi saw the smoke downtown from the window of an office in the Commerce Building.

Rossi, branch office supervisor of Transamerica Financial Advisors’ downtown office, didn’t realize it was coming from the building where she has resided for more than a decade until she got a phone call from her husband.

“It must have happened while I was in the elevator because I didn’t hear it,” she said during a phone interview Tuesday evening.

Back in the elevator headed out, her husband, Gregg, a local attorney, told her that it was their building that the smoke was coming from. He was in his office at the Mahoning Building, heard the explosion, went to the window and saw the smoke.

She then ran toward the Realty building, knowing that’s where her son, Vito Colella, a Youngstown State University student, was.

“He was in the fire escape” – an enclosed stairwell at the south end of the building – “when the explosion happened,” and was exiting the building when she arrived, she said.

“I get to the scene – the smoke hadn’t even cleared – and there was a bank employee standing on the rubble, motioning for help, and I started to try to run toward the rubble,” she recalled. Her son came over and grabbed her, and a police or security officer told her she had to get back because of the lingering gas.

Colella has “a couple of scrapes on him, nothing severe,” she said.

The explosion, which took place around 2:45 p.m., devastated the Chase Bank branch in the building’s ground floor and has displaced the building’s residential tenants, including the Rossis, who lease the top two floors. 

“I’m really worried about the people who were in Chase,” Deanna Rossi said.

Gregg Rossi had just walked past the building 15 minutes before the explosion.

“I don’t normally go that way,” he said.

As of Tuesday evening, two individuals – including a Chase employee – remained unaccounted for.

Though Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology nearby remains closed until further notice, Mahoning Snacks owner John Colucci posted on Facebook that the newsstand and snack store, located in the Mahoning Building, would be open Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners issued a news release stating that the county Emergency Management Agency had cleared all county government buildings in downtown Youngstown to open for regular hours. 

The tragedy occurred less than a week before Youngstown CityScape’s annual Streetscape cleanup and planting event, which remains scheduled to take place, according to Sharon Letson, executive director.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all involved in this terrible tragedy. Our city of Youngstown and our downtown, in particular, have had some struggles that have affected our businesses and community,” she said.

Following communications with city officials, CityScape will make adjustments to Saturday’s Streetscape event. “We feel more than ever the community needs to show their love for our city and move forward with our Streetscape event,” she continued.

As of Tuesday evening, the Rossis, who are staying with local family, had no information regarding when – or if – they would be able to go back into the building, where their medications, computers and all their clothes other than what they were wearing are. Most of the family vehicles are in a parking lot they can’t access. They at least had their wallets on them, Deanna Rossi said.

“We are car- and clothesless, but we are alive and not injured,” she said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.