Blast Destroys Vacant Townhouse in Minnesota

Authorities suspect a natural gas leak caused a blast late Sunday that injured several people and destroyed a vacant Fridley town house.

Five neighbors were taken to area hospitals, but none suffered serious injuries. The blast blew the front door of the home off its hinges and sent shards of glass and bits of window blinds across a parking lot at the Rice Creek Townhouses complex.

A building manager said Monday the town house at 1634 N.E. 68th Ave. had been vacant since May 31 and that no one had been working there.

Fridley Fire Chief John Berg said two units at the four-unit building have been condemned, including one occupied by several people. Officials haven't decided whether to condemn the other two units.

The blast shook neighbors just after 11 p.m. as they were settling down for the night. One boy said it lifted his chair off the ground.

"I thought, honestly, that a car was hitting our house," said Rhonda Andreotti, who lives three doors away and called 911.

Flying debris damaged several cars. Andreotti said her minivan's bumper was nearly torn off and its windshield cracked.

Jesse Eikum and Brad Swanson live in a town house behind the explosion site. After the blast, they looked out their window and saw that the entire second-story rear wall had been blown off in one piece, breaking several branches on a nearby tree as it fell.

"It was pretty crazy," Eikum said.

Officials ruled out explosives or a methamphetamine lab, which can explode under certain conditions. Inspectors from the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety also tested the soil near the blast site and did not find an underground gas leak.

Firefighters put out a small blaze when they arrived. Before entering the building, they tested the air for the presence of natural gas and found none. Nevertheless, natural gas probably caused the blast, said Berg, the fire chief.

"What else would do that to a building?" he said.

Officials from CenterPoint Energy are assisting in the investigation, which is continuing. The cause of the blast does not appear related to a Ramsey explosion in December that spurred the company to begin replacing thousands of gas lines throughout the northern and western suburbs.

Distributed by the Associated Press