Ximena Conde and Frank Kummer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — Multiple gas leaks in Port Richmond resulted in an explosion early New Year’s Day that led to the collapse of two homes and multiple people being taken to hospitals, according to city fire officials.
None of the injuries appeared to be fatal, but two people were rescued from the rubble and three others required emergency medical services before being taken to the hospital, according to the Philadelphia Fire Department.
The incident happened around 2:50 a.m. on the 3500 block of Miller Street, according to city officials. Residents in the area described hearing something comparable to a multivehicle car crash.
“I heard a bang, came outside, and everybody started coming out,” said Thomas Bonk, who lives on the 3600 block of Miller Street. His home was fine, but his neighbor’s window was one of several blown out due to the explosion’s force.
Residents on the block where the explosion occurred started the year by clearing their sidewalks of debris, wood fragments that were blown through windows, and bits of insulation that covered cars like snow.
“This decimated the block,” said Kenneth B. Paul, president of the neighborhood’s civic association, who lives nearby and spent the day helping neighbors clean.
Paul and other longtime residents recalled a similar explosion that occurred just blocks away in 1999. Eight people were injured, and three homes were destroyed in the suspected gas explosion. Still, Paul said, many more homes suffered collateral damage in Sunday’s explosion. He and other residents wondered if aging gas lines were to blame.
“It’s been 20 years (since the last explosion) and nobody has fixed that issue,” said Paul, who hopes to get some answers from the city and Philadelphia Gas Works during a civic association meeting Wednesday. “Why haven’t these gas lines been replaced?”
Details about the explosion were not immediately available, and PGW did not immediately respond to questions about the age of gas mains in the area. In a statement, the company said it’s cooperating with the Fire Marshal’s Office, which is investigating the cause of the explosion.
Tara Dendall, who lives around the corner from Sunday’s explosion on the corner of Gaul and Atlantic Streets, stayed busy talking to her insurer to keep from crying. She was awakened by the loud boom and bits of debris falling on her arm. Her home sustained significant damage and her cat ran away, though she was able to safely evacuate with her brother, and daughter without injury.
All of the back-facing windows and some of her front windows were blown out. Bricks and fragments of Dendall’s wooden fence lay on her front lawn.
“I have to smile and laugh at it because if I don’t … it could be worse,” said Dendall signaling to the collapsed homes. “I could be people behind me, and I couldn’t imagine that.”
Karen Quick, who’s lived on the 3500 block of Miller Street for more than 30 years, also tried to look past the broken windows of her home and the chunks of wood that littered her backyard. Her 23 year old daughter was home with a friend hanging out at the time of the explosion.
“Everybody is fine, nobody got hurt, we’re just a little shaken,” she said.
As Sunday wore on, crews cleared debris off the road, cars damaged in the explosion got towed, PGW employees inspected homes, and the city’s Office of Emergency Management is coordinated efforts at the scene. Samuel Recreation Center served as a meeting point for displaced families. PECO said 31 homes that had to get their power shut off had it restored by noon.
The American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania said its responders are working with the Office of Emergency Management, and are providing hot beverages and blankets to residents gathered at Samuel Recreation Center.
As for how homeowners would be made whole, Paul said neighbors were already working to help those affected by the explosion, making food and helping with the cleanup.
“That’s the thing about Port Richmond,” he said. “These people have each other’s backs.”
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