Feb. 28--Felt several miles away, a Wednesday afternoon explosion leveled a Royal Oak house, killing one person and shaking homes, shattering windows and frightening neighbors.
"It was a horrific explosion," said Robert Crowley, 64, who lives down the street from the house on the 4000 block of Cooper Avenue, near Normandy and Woodward.
Consumers Energy crews had been working in the area earlier in the day as part of a gas main replacement program, although it was unclear what caused the blast, utility spokeswoman Debra Dodd said. Dodd said the incident had the characteristics of a natural gas explosion and is under investigation.
Police said a 58-year-old man was found dead at the scene. His name was not released. Neighbors said they believed he lived alone in the house.
The blast, reported just before 5 p.m., shattered the windows of cars, houses and businesses on Woodward. More than 30 homes were damaged, Dodd said. Some residents were evacuated.
Crowley said the blast woke him from a nap. He went outside and saw, "just all wood where the house was, lumber on the lawn."
He said a house on one side of the explosion site was on fire, and a portion of the home on the other side had severe damage.
"It sounded like a 155mm Howitzer going off about 100 yards away," said Dan Jones, 67, who has lived four doors down from the exploded house since 1984 and served in Vietnam.
Jones and other neighbors said they had seen Consumers Energy crews working on the street starting last week about a block south of the explosion site. They had been working their way up the street and on Wednesday were in the vicinity of the house that exploded, he said.
"Basically, they were putting a new gas main line under the sidewalk, and then they were going to be tying into each house," Jones said. "They were here working until about 4:30 this afternoon, with all their trucks and their digging equipment."
As Jones spoke, firefighters doused the last of the flames that had been burning in the basement of the leveled home.
Kate Sikora, 24, who lives two houses down, was in the kitchen contemplating dinner with her boyfriend when she heard the explosion and felt a shock wave. The windows in their house broke.
Royal Oak City Commissioner David Poulton's house three blocks away shook with the force of the explosion. He walked to the scene, where he described seeing one house leveled and the houses on either side badly damaged.
"There was smoke everywhere, and pieces of the house for blocks around," he said.
The staff at the Golden Basket restaurant on Woodward one block west of the house was serving the early dinner crowd when the explosion shattered four picture windows, leaving shards of glass scattered across dining tables and carpeting. No one was hurt.
"The whole building was shaking like an atomic bomb," owner Dino Loucopoulos said.
Loucopoulos asked his customers to vacate, canceled carryout orders and closed the restaurant.
At other nearby businesses along Woodward, crews worked Wednesday night to cover shattered storefront windows with plywood.
Jessie Lennon, 18, was driving with a friend on Woodward near Cooper when the force of the blast jerked their car to the side.
"It sounded like a bomb had gone off," she said. "After that, we looked up, and there was just an explosion so far up in the air. It was like flames, debris and smoke, like so high up."
She and her friend parked and walked to the scene.
"It was terrifying," she said.
Allison Kolesky, who lives more than a mile away on Cole Street near Eton in Birmingham, said she heard a bang and thought a tree fell on her house under the weight of snow.
Kolesky, 37, said she yelled for her two young sons because "I thought they broke something."
Turns out, the explosion did. She said a ceramic plate fell and broke in her china cabinet.
She went outside and found other neighbors looking around, wondering what had happened.
Crews shut off utilities to nearby houses Wednesday night. Consumers Energy offered to pay for people whose homes were damaged to stay at a Quality Inn in Troy. Residents used seven rooms there.