Motel Explosion Leaves Maintenance Worker Missing

A motel worker was missing and feared killed Tuesday when a two-story motel partially collapsed after an explosion and fire.

“There is a missing hotel maintenance worker,” John Oxendine, the state insurance and fire safety commissioner, told FOX News affiliate WAGA. “There are not other injuries reported at this time.”

The missing worker, identified as Reese Helton, 44, reportedly was in the laundry room area when the blast occurred. The explosion also apparently happened in that area.

Residents said they smelled gas before the explosion and investigators also said it appeared to have been a gas explosion that rattled the 73-room motel shortly after 9 a.m. EDT.

The powerful blast leveled the back end of the motel, collapsed a section of roof over a corner of rooms and dumped debris on cars parked below, local stations reported. Six to eight rooms were destroyed, Breman Fire Chief Clark Farr said.

"I heard a large boom, then got dressed. I knew it couldn’t be good," one hotel guest said.

Maria Eskew, 39, of Carrollton, said, "I was scared to death.” Eskew was on the first floor trying to sleep at the time of the explosion. "I knew something was wrong because the lights went out and the power went off. I went to the window and all I saw was debris and smoke. ... It felt like it was on my floor. It was right above me," she said.

The explosion could be heard at least two miles up the road at a Holiday Inn Express, said front desk clerk Lacey Bryant. She said white smoke was still drifting past her motel more than two hours later.

State fire officials were investigating the cause of the explosion. “We're not sure if it's arson,” Oxendine said. “We're investigating the origin.”

Most of the motel's occupants had checked out by then, and only three of four people were inside at the time of the blast, said Breman Police Capt. Richard Harrison.

All of the motel's guests were accounted for, Harrison said, but the motel maintenance worker was feared to be trapped in the collapsed corner of the building.

"The fire personnel is working very hard to try to get in to see," he said.

The motel's signs advertised it as a Quality Inn & Suites, but its affiliation with the national franchise chain ended a year ago, said Robin Ferrier, a spokeswoman with Choice Hotels International, which owns the Quality Inn name. The motel's manager was not immediately available for comment.

The motel is near Interstate 20 and about 10 miles east of the Alabama border.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.