5 injured after explosion levels 2 homes in Philadelphia's Port Richmond section

The New Year's Day blast sent cars and debris in the air and shook homes for blocks.

Monday, January 2, 2023
5 injured after explosion levels 2 homes in Port Richmond
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Five people were taken to the hospital after a row home explosion in Port Richmond.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Five people were injured, one of them critically, after a row home explosion in Philadelphia's Port Richmond section early Sunday morning.

Fire officials say the New Year's Day blast happened before 3 a.m. on Miller and East Atlantic streets, leveling two homes and severely damaging more.

The explosion also blasted out windows and sent cars flying across the block.

Chris Heisenger was driving down the street with his girlfriend when the explosion happened.

"As I got out of the car, I'm stepping over piles of concrete," said Heisenger. "I remember everything. The smell, the taste of the debris, it's still in my head."

He returned to the scene Sunday morning with bloodied clothes and a gash on his cheek from a shard of glass. He had been driving to Wawa for a late-night snack when in seconds, the block was reduced to rubble.

"Well, I had my head turned towards her and I was like, 'we're going to Wawa,' and just outta nowhere it was like a loud bang and I just felt my whole car push over to the curb," he said.

Fire officials say a gas leak inside one of the homes was likely the cause.

"It was like a bomb, like a 'ba-boom!' It shook the whole house. It's undescribable almost," said a neighbor named Karen, who couldn't get out of her front door.

"There was debris, coming out of the sky and my God, I ran up the street. There was a car twisted up in the middle of the road," said Tim Bolli, who described the block like a war scene.

Neighbors helped pull each other out of the debris.

The Philadelphia Fire Department says three people had to be rescued and taken to the hospital.

"We were able to pull two individuals that had somewhat extricated themselves from the explosion and we had one individual that we had to dig out from the debris," said Assistant Fire Chief Charles Walker.

"It's very rare to have the magnitude of this type of damage occur as you might see on some of your cameras, cars are pushed on the street, windows are blown out and to not have a loss of life is truly a blessing," said Walker.

As crews searched through the debris, neighbors said they're lucky to be alive.

"This is why I never take anything for granted the next day or whatever, I just take each day as it goes," said Heisenger.

The Red Cross and city agencies were on scene providing assistance to residents.

"We're going to clean this up. We're going to make sure everyone has housing. We're going to make sure - their basic needs, their medication - we're going to make sure they have all that. Whatever this neighborhood needs, we're going to get," Councilman Mike Driscoll said.