Durham celebrates 150th anniversary, acknowledges victims of fatal explosion

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Wednesday's massive blast that killed a local businessman, sent more than a dozen people to the hospital, and destroyed downtown Durham buildings happened on the city's 150th anniversary.

The city adjusted its plans for the weekend anniversary celebration with several references to the tragedy.

Saturday's activities followed a moment of silence for Kong Lee, the coffee shop owner who died when something ignited leaking natural gas on that block, and all others affected by the powerful explosion.

"We all know that Durham's had a tough week," said Mayor Steve Schewel. "It was a very difficult time and a sad time, but a time to be very proud, also."

City leaders and regular citizens praised the first responders and civilians who tried to assist the wounded.

"Although Durham has changed significantly in the nearly 20 years since I first lived here, there is a reason why I keep returning to this city," said Durham EMS medical director Anjini Joiner. "As evidenced by the incredible support from businesses, citizens and others throughout the city, Durham has character, passion and a true sense of community."

The Gillis family of Durham also mentioned the tragedy.

"Somehow, someone knew someone who was closely involved, or was around when that happened," Devin Gillis said. "And people just...people felt it."

He says he moved to Durham five years ago after college and now says, "I love Durham! It's just very family friendly, always something going on. It's just a mindset. It's really great to be a part of."

He's one of the many who have invested in the Bull City, looking now to the future while acknowledging past triumphs and tragedies.

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