One killed in house explosion

March 5, 2008 4:31:09 PM PST
An explosion flattened a house in suburban Pittsburgh on Wednesday, killing a man, injuring his granddaughter, and damaging at least eight neighboring homes, authorities said. A utility spokesman said evidence pointed to a natural gas explosion, but the source was unclear.

Richard Leith, 64, of Trafford, died at UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh shortly after 3 p.m. said John J. Smith, an investigator with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office.

Borough Police Chief Frank Monaco said the 4-year-old had a broken femur but her injuries were apparently not life-threatening.

"That she wasn't killed is a miracle," he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The girl was taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, where a spokesman said he did not have further details. No other injuries were reported.

Pieces of burnt insulation and debris were scattered over a wide area, and smoke and flames still rose from the site hours after the 1:40 p.m. blast in Plum, about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh. As many as 40 residents were evacuated and it was unclear when they would be allowed to return. An emergency shelter was set up at a nearby school.

Neighbor Nancy Wineland, 55, said she was cooking in her house when the explosion shook the house, cracking one of her windows. She said she ran through her house to check for possible damage before going outside, where she saw "flames and smoke and debris everywhere."

"The smoke was so thick, you couldn't see anything," she said. "You couldn't even breathe."

"All of a sudden all the pictures blew off the walls, we heard a loud bang. It felt like an earthquake," said Diane Fulmer, 43, who lives two houses away. Fulmer said she ran outside and "all I could see was parts of houses flying in the air."

Elmore Lockley, a spokesman for the Dominion Peoples natural gas utility, said evidence pointed to a natural gas explosion, but there were no problems with gas lines on that street or neighboring ones. He said investigators would look at pipes and appliances inside the house.

Lockley said there had been no reports of odors that might indicate a gas leak and no major construction in the area in recent months.