Video: Pa. house explosion kills 4
Firefighters said it was difficult to get water on the deep-seated fire in the rubble of the Pottstown blast
The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa.
POTTSTOWN, Pa. — An explosion in the 400 block of Hale Street between Butler Avenue and West Street left at least four dead and two people in the hospital Thursday evening.
The explosion, which hit just after 8 p.m. was so powerful it was felt blocks away as houses shook and people came out into the streets to find out what was going happening.
The scene looked as if a tornado had hit. There was no part of the structure remaining, just shards and pieces and a hole about 20 feet deep.
In a late night press conference delivered in the parking lot of Pottstown High School where a mobile command center had been set up, Borough Manager Justin Keller read from a statement indicating 4 people were killed, two are in the hospital "and we're receiving information that there still may be two people unaccounted for."
No names or ages of the victims were provided and Keller did not take questions. An update on the situation has been scheduled for noon Friday.
No cause for the explosion was provided and speculation on social media varied from a plane crashing into the house (it did not); a gas leak or propane leak. Investigations were being conducted by the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency, the state police and fire marshal.
Many residents told a reporter that they often smelled gas in the area and reported it, but a search for a potential leak always came up empty.
Late into the evening, a persistent cloud of smoke coming from the pit began to grow and firefighters said a fire among the rubble was ongoing and difficult to fight because of how deep under the rubble it was and how difficult it was to get water on it.
At the scene, neighbors and onlookers gathered as near to the scene as they could in disbelief and shock, while live wires sparked on the road nearby and police from across the Pottstown area set up warning tape to keep them back for their own safety, and so emergency responders could do their work.
Tandra Rambert stood in shock a few doors down from her home, clutching her keys and a pair of fuzzy slippers to her chest. She was in her house with her son just three doors down from the explosion when "I heard this loud blast and I fell on my knees and hid behind the couch."
Her windows imploded inward, spraying glass and she ran outside with her son. The house next to hers had the entire front torn off and was leaning against hers. She watched helplessly as firemen used a crowbar to pry open the door of her neighbor on the other side to make sure no one was home, even as she said wanly "they're not home."
Rambert said the family in the house that exploded had moved in about a year ago and she did not know them well. "They had four or five kids and I know they just got a puppy," she said.
Eventually, she and her son were taken to the gymnasium at Pottstown High School where the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania had set up a help center and shelter, if needed.
"We'll give anyone who needs it immediate assistance and provide support, financial or emotional, whatever they need," said Red Cross spokesperson Alana Mauger.
Informally, Pottstown NAACP President Johnny Corson and other members of the organization were working to find food and clothing for those affected.
All classes for students and staff were cancelled Friday due to the incident, which occurred just three blocks from the high school/middle school complex.
On Butler Avenue, just down the hill from the blast, neighbors called to each other from windows and front lawns to check on each other. Former mayor Sharon Thomas and her husband Barry live in a home just doors from the explosion.
Her son, Kingdom Life Church Pastor Justin Valentine, was worried after he heard the news and could not reach his mother, so he drove down from Douglassville. He was there when Sharon and Barry Thomas arrived and were enfolded by the arms of a neighbor.
One of those neighbors is Dorothy Auman who lives within a block of the explosion and has lived there for 13 years..
"I was in my husband's recliner watching ' Chicago Fire' with my three dogs when I heard this blast, I ran to the window and saw this huge explosion, debris was flying as far as it could go," Auman said. "The dogs were freaking out."
One of her windows exploded inward and a photo of her children was knocked off the wall.
Next door, a neighbor closer to the blast shouted to her from his second floor window, reporting that all his windows on that side of the house had blown out and one wall seemed to be damaged on the inside.
"There going to be a lot of insurance company people around here in the next couple of days," Auman said.
"I heard a loud band that rocked the whole block," said Michael Barnett, who lives at the corner of West and Hale streets. "I looked out and there was nothing but a plume of smoke and debris everywhere."
Some first responders worried about Friday's forecast for heavy rains as it would make working at a difficult site even more difficult.
We'll have more on this story as more information becomes available.
(c)2022 The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa.