Man driving to Wawa on his way home survives Port Richmond explosion

"I remember everything. The smell, the taste of the debris, it's still fresh in my head," Chris Heinsinger said.

Monday, January 2, 2023
New Year's Day explosion rocks Port Richmond, investigation underway
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Crews were back in Port Richmond as the investigation into a New Year's Day explosion continued for a second day.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Chris Heinsinger was not in one of the homes that were destroyed by an explosion in Philadelphia on New Year's Day, but he has the scars to prove he was as close as one could get without being indoors.

The blast leveled two homes on the 3500 block of Miller Street in Port Richmond and injured at least five residents shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday.

Wearing his blood-stained shirt caused by drips from his wounded face, Heinsinger shared his story of survival to reporters that began with a late-night craving for Taco Bell.

"This is why I never take anything for granted. The next day or whatever. I take each day as it goes," Chris Heinsinger said.

Heinsinger, who lives a few blocks from the explosion scene, and his girlfriend were looking to grab a bite to eat before making their way home.

"I just happened to be coming up the street. We were going to stop at Taco Bell and seen it was closed, so we decided we'll stop at Wawa, only thing that's open," Heinsinger said.

He turned his head to tell his girlfriend, "We're going to Wawa," when he said a loud boom came out of nowhere.

"Then mid-way up the street, I felt like this big impact, like just a loud bang," Heinsinger said. "I felt my car push over from the middle of the street onto the curb."

Heinsinger said he looked over to the right and saw his girlfriend was unconscious.

"So my first instinct was to get out of the car and make sure she was OK," Heinsinger said.

Heinsinger said she did regain consciousness and is doing OK, she just doesn't remember much. He, however, recalls every moment.

"I remember everything. The smell, the taste of the debris, it's still fresh in my head," Heinsinger said.

The explosion is believed to have been fueled by a gas leak.

The Port Richmond resident says when he got out of his vehicle, he saw rubble and debris as he stepped over piles of concrete.

"I couldn't believe what was going on," Heinsinger said.

The explosion is believed to have been fueled by a gas leak. In a statement Monday, PGW said it is "not aware of any recent calls from the area reporting gas odors prior to the incident."

Heinsinger said neighbors came to his and his girlfriend's aid, including one man who gave him a shirt.

He said although there had been blood dripping down his head, he didn't need stitches at the scene.

He called his mother a short time after his harrowing close call.

"When my son called me at 4:05 a.m., I knew something wasn't right. The tone of his voice, he could barely say 'Mom.' I knew something wasn't right," Chris' mother Theresa Heinsinger told Action News on Monday.

By that time, Chris Heinsinger and his girlfriend were being treated at the hospital.

"I've never seen my son like that," Theresa Heinsinger said after visiting her son in the hospital room. "He's all cut up and scraped. I believe they took a few hours to clean everything embedded in his head, neck and hands."

Theresa said she had to see the site of the explosion for herself.

"When I got here, it was way beyond words. I was shaking the whole time," Theresa said.

The damaged vehicle remained on the scene after the explosion, with its windows blown out and airbags deployed.

She said an officer came up to her and asked if she was a relative of one the injured from inside the homes. She told him, no, that she was the mother of one of the victims who were driving through in a passing vehicle.

That damaged Nissan Murano remained on the scene after the explosion, with its windows blown out and airbags deployed.

"This is why I never take anything for granted. The next day or whatever. I take each day as it goes. I'm grateful that me and everybody are still alive. The fact that we can sit here and talk about it...Not the way I wanted to start off my new year," Chris Heinsinger said.

"It is what it is. A car can be replaced, a life can't."