September 21, 2007

If only

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood where this explosion occured last night.

Explosion levels house Extent of damage astonishes authorities

Tribune Staff Writers

SOUTH BEND -- John Ohime was sitting in his Arbor Pointe subdivision home Thursday night when his walls began shaking, and pictures began flying off the wall.

"I thought it was an airplane, so I came outside," Ohime said.

He saw that his quiet neighborhood had been turned upside down.
Tree branches, leaves and debris were scattered across a 100-foot radius. And the house four doors down was completely gone.

"I ran down there to see if we could do anything, but the house was just leveled," Ohime said.

"It was pretty scary. Too close for comfort."

Multiple rescue agencies in St. Joseph County responded to the explosion north of the city.

Rescue units were dispatched to the scene at 22530 Arbor Pointe Drive around 8:15 p.m.

At least one occupant of the house was injured and taken to a local hospital, according to Dave Cherrone, Clay Fire Territory fire marshal. He could not give a condition of the occupant. Cherrone said a neighbor may have pulled him from the home.

The victim was a retired police officer, neighbors told WSBT-TV. The man was flown to a burn center in Kalamazoo. He was not identified as of press deadline.

When units arrived at the scene, Cherrone said the house was "totally demolished." Only a basement remained.

Cherrone said he was shocked by what he saw.

"I haven't seen anything," he added, "that caused this much damage. Our two concerns were containing the hazard and making sure people in the area were safe."

Cherrone said the explosion caused major damage to at least eight nearby houses.

The house to the left of the explosion was missing about half of its garage, while the home across the street also received heavy damage, especially to its garage.

The street in front of the explosion was covered with leaves and debris.

The Arbor Pointe subdivision is just south of the state line and between Portage and Mayflower roads.

Ohime said he saw massive flames when we walked outside.

The blast could reportedly be heard in Niles and Edwardsburg.

When firefighters arrived on the scene, heavy smoke was billowing into the night sky.

While there was initial speculation that the explosion was a result of a gas leak, neither Cherrone nor a NIPSCO spokesman on the scene would confirm that claim late Thursday night.

It was unclear how many houses were evacuated as a result of the explosion, but some residents near the explosion were being allowed back to their homes at 10:15 p.m.

Cherrone said some of the houses would not be livable for at least the near future.

The Red Cross was on the scene to assist with housing for families affected by the explosion.

Tommie Lee lives two houses from the explosion on the same side of the street.

"My entire house shook," Lee said. "I thought a truck had hit the house."

When he walked outside, he said all he saw was fire and smoke.

As he got closer, he was amazed.

"There was no house," he said.

St. Joseph County police spokeswoman Jaimee Thirion was in awe of the damage.

"This is the worst thing I've been out to in four years that wasn't a natural disaster," she said.

Cherrone said rescue units checked multiple houses near the explosion for casualties. He expects units to be on the scene all night.

As tragic as this is, I'm more concerned about my friend right now because she is blaming herself for not calling the gas company when she smelled gas earlier in the day. I tried to tell her she can't blame herself over this, but how do you really get a message like that through to a person who feels that level of guilt. It's because she knows the man who was injured and she thinks she could have prevented the explosion if she just would have picked up the phone. Other people in the neighborhood smelled gas, too, but none of them called either. Still, I guess I'm asking all of you to say a little prayer that a woman you don't know can find some peace in her heart.

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