Five people were found dead after a house explosion in western Pennsylvania destroyed three structures and damaged at least a dozen others, authorities said on Sunday.
The police chief of the community of Plum, Lanny Conley, said the bodies of four adults and one adolescent were recovered after the blast shortly before 10.30am on Saturday.
Plum is about 20 miles (32km) east of Pittsburgh.
“This is certainly a sad, sad day and a sad time, for not just the folks in Plum but all the folks in the community and in this region,” said Allegheny county executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Of the three people taken to hospitals, two were released while one remained in critical condition, said the deputy director of fire and emergency services for Allegheny county, Steve Imbarlina. Fifty-seven firefighters were treated at the scene for minor issues.
The Allegheny county medical examiner’s office is expected to provide additional information about the deceased victims.
“Please give us some time to deal with this situation and give the families your respect and give them some space to deal with this tragedy,” Conley said.
Emergency responders reported people trapped under debris after the blast leveled one house and left two others engulfed in flames, county spokesperson Amie Downs said. Crews from at least 18 fire departments worked to douse the flames with the help of water tankers from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.
The cause of the explosion is under investigation by the county fire marshal’s office along with borough and county law enforcement. Imbarlina warned that the investigation would be a “slow and long process” that would include a lot of forensic testing and could last “months if not years”.
Residents of the area where the explosion happened described a chaotic aftermath.
George Emanuele, who lives a few houses down from the scene of the blast, told the Tribune-Review that he and a neighbor went to the home that exploded before the flames there got out of control. They found a man lying in the back yard there and dragged him away.
Rafal Kolankowski, who also lives near the explosion scene, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the blast broke his home’s windows and knocked him and his wife to the floor.
He said he checked on his son and then went outside to find a woman covered in white ash. Kolankowski was told that a man who had been in the basement had not yet exited.
“It looks like a war zone,” Kolankowsi said. “It looks like a bomb hit our neighborhood, and it’s just unfortunate.”
Michael Huwar, president of Peoples Gas, said the company’s checks for gas leaks underground and in the air, as well as the consistent pressure verified at regulation stations, indicate that “our system was operating as designed”.
Gas and electric service was shut off as a precaution, and officials said on Sunday a plan was in place to begin restoring service with electric power expected to be returned to all but a few residences.
Pennsylvania’s governor, Josh Shapiro, said he and his wife were “praying for the families” affected and promised them that “as you rebuild, we will have your back”.
The Associated Press contributed reporting
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/aug/13/house-explosion-in-pennsylvania-kills-five-and-destroys-three-structures House explosion in Pennsylvania kills five and destroys three structures | Pennsylvania