PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A natural gas leak was to blame for an explosion on a densely-packed city block caused one row house to collapse into the street and left eight people injured, including two babies and a critically injured contractor, officials said.
City inspectors made the determination late Monday afternoon, several hours after the collapse of an unoccupied home being remodeled in the middle of a south Philadelphia street of connected two-story brick homes.
The contractor, whose name was not immediately released, was working on a water heater in the basement of the destroyed home, police said. He was hospitalized in critical condition with severe burns, Mayor Michael Nutter's office said in a statement.
Bricks showered onto the small street and crushed a car parked out front. The houses on either side of the destroyed home were standing but badly damaged, with large sections of their masonry walls gone.
"I was in the shower and I thought my house was about to fall down," said Christie Scibblo, a 26-year-old mother of four who lives four houses down from the collapsed home. "I ran outside and I saw a firefighter rescuing an infant."
Scibblo said she also saw firefighters hosing down a man who had been burned.
Daniel Killian, 19, who lives across the narrow street from the house that collapsed, said he smelled gas shortly before the collapse.
Joseph Szymborski, 33, was jolted from his bed when he heard what sounded like an explosion and ran outside to find "the house was in the street."
He said he ran down the street to help neighbors and rescuers look through the rubble, though he was worried about the remains of the damaged buildings falling on him.
"It's situations like this, you just come together as a neighborhood," Szymborski said.
Rescue crews combed through the rubble for victims. They said early Monday afternoon that the search was complete and no one was unaccounted for.
Nearby gas and electrical utility service was turned off and 70 homes were initially evacuated, though the city said most of the affected neighbors were being allowed back into their homes by late afternoon. Residents with nowhere to go were taken to a nearby school, which was being used as a temporary shelter.
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said the state regulatory agency would have jurisdiction if the explosion occurred outside the home but not if it occurred inside.
Last month, a collapse at a downtown Philadelphia demolition site killed six people and injured 12 when a large wall fell on an adjacent thrift store. A machinery operator is charged with involuntary manslaughter and a grand jury is weighing whether anyone else should be charged.