Explosion Levels Two Homes in Delaware

A suspected gas explosion flattened two rowhouses Wednesday, injuring about 10 people, two of them seriously, authorities said.


WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) -- A suspected gas explosion flattened two rowhouses Wednesday and injured 12 people, three of them critically, after a work crew repairing a sidewalk hit a gas pipeline with a backhoe, authorities said.

The explosion, which also damaged several other buildings, reduced the two houses to piles of charred wood and bricks, sent large sections of roof into the street and blew out windows in several homes.

``All I heard was a blast, I mean a big blast,'' said John Thomas, 78, who lives across the street from the explosion.

``I'm lucky. ... I'm just lucky. I was bleeding all over,'' said Thomas, still wearing a hospital gown after being treated for cuts to his head and back.

Barry Coger said his mother, Bernice Handy, 69, lived in one of the rowhouses. He said his mother told him she was putting groceries into her refrigerator when the force of the explosion blew her out the back door.

``She's sore and she's got a few scratches,'' he said.

Everyone was believed to have been accounted for. Firefighters picked through the rubble at first because of concerns people were trapped, said John Rago, a spokesman for Mayor James Baker.

Rago said at least 10 homes were damaged and about a dozen families displaced. They were being cared for by the Red Cross.

The critically injured men worked for the company that was repairing the sidewalk, Quickform Concrete of New Castle, company manager Silvano Delsignore said.

Most of the injured suffered burns and cuts, and many received quick treatment from workers at a nearby community health clinic who felt the blast.

``The building literally shook,'' said Lolita Lopez, director of Westside Health. ``We looked out the back window and saw that the house was down.''

Residents said they told the workers more than an hour before the explosion that they smelled gas.

``They did nothing about it,'' said Tim Burley, 40, who was treated for minor cuts from flying glass. ``The gas kept getting stronger and stronger.''

Delsignore said he called the gas company after the crew hit a gas line leading from one of the houses, and the explosion occurred about 10 minutes later. He said he was unaware that any residents reported smelling gas before the explosion.

Local authorities suspended cleanup efforts Wednesday evening pending the arrival of National Transportation Safety Board officials. The NTSB is responsible for investigating pipeline accidents involving fatalities or substantial property damage.