Father who was inside gym with family when blast rocked Plantation mall describes chaos

PLANTATION, FLA. (WSVN) - A concerned father described the chaotic and harrowing moments after an explosion rippled through a shopping plaza in Plantation while he and his family were at the gym located right next to where the blast took place.

Ernie Herrera, his wife and their two young sons came to the LA Fitness at the Market on University shopping center, Saturday morning.

As he dropped off his little boys, 5-year-old Michael and 3-year-old Eddie, at the child care center on the gym’s second floor, Herrera said, he never imagined he would have to sprint through ankle-deep water in search of his loved ones.

While he and his wife were working out downstairs, the father said, he and his wife felt the ground shake.

“The ceiling tiles inside LA Fitness came down and hit us,” he said during a phone interview with 7News on Sunday. “Water started spraying everywhere, the fire alarm started going off. I immediately started running towards my wife, and then it dawned on me, my kids are at the kids’ care.”

Herrera said he immediately took off in search of his boys.

“I was screaming for my children, my two children,” said Herrera. “I heard what sounded like one of them. He was screaming, ‘Daddy!'”

He later learned the children were evacuated out a side door, but Michael, who is on the autism spectrum, was still inside.

Herrera was eventually able to locate the 5-year-old.

“When I asked him later, ‘Where were you?’ He said that, after the blast, he hid. I guess it was from the exercise that they do in the schools, those Code Reds,” he said. “He was screaming so bad.”

After making sure his loved ones were OK, Herrera took out his cellphone and recorded video showing gym members making their way to the exit.

Despite damage to their SUV, the Herreras rushed their children to their family doctor, and now their parents worry about what kind of effect those moments will leave behind.

“Not only my children, but the 20 children that were in that child care, 20-plus that were affected by that blast,” said Herrera, “because I can only imagine the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] that all these children are going to go through. My children couldn’t sleep last night. I don’t think that it’s over for them. The 3-year-old is really having a hard time. I’m sure there are many, many children that will need help from this.”

Herrera said his sons are experiencing pain in their ears, so he’s worried about any lasting physical effects, as well as emotional ones.

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