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Gas explosion levels Baltimore homes, killing one and trapping others

Lillian Reed And Colin Campbell
The Baltimore Sun
Firefighters at the scene of where homes are destroyed  Monday, August 10, 2020 at Boxhill Road and Reisterstown Road in Northeast Baltimore. A natural gas explosion has completely destroyed three row houses in Baltimore, killing at least one person and critically injuring several others.  (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

BALTIMORE – A “major” gas explosion ripped through three homes in the Reisterstown Station neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore, killing one woman and seriously injuring at least two others, Baltimore Fire officials said Monday.

More than 200 rescue personnel were on the scene. Rescuers are communicating with one person still trapped, according to a tweet from the Baltimore firefighters union, and are searching for others.

The explosion occurred before 10 a.m. at Reisterstown and Labyrinth roads, just behind Reisterstown Plaza shopping center. The exact cause of the explosion was not immediately clear. Baltimore Police warned people to avoid the area, as the gas leak is still active.

Authorities guide a person after an explosion in Baltimore on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. Baltimore firefighters say an explosion has leveled several homes in the city. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesperson Richard Yost said the company received a call from the fire department around 9:54 a.m. asking crews to respond to the scene.

“We are on the scene and working closely with the fire department to make the situation safe,” Yost said. “Crews are working to turn off gas to the buildings in the immediate area. Once the gas is off we can begin to safely assess the situation including inspections of BGE equipment.”

One person was buried from the neck down, and another was sheltering in a closet when Kevin Matthews, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration building inspector who lives in the block, arrived around 10 a.m.

Matthews, who has lived on Labyrinth Road for 28 years, said he could hear shouting from children trapped: “Come get us! We’re stuck!”

When he walked up the front steps, he realized the house had been completely razed. A long crack ran between the destroyed house and the one next door.

“I could see the back alley from the front stoop,” Matthews said. “We moved out of the way and let the firemen handle it.”

Baltimore City Fire Department carries a person out from the debris after an explosion in Baltimore on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. Baltimore firefighters say an explosion has leveled several homes in the city. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Some area residents reported feeling the blast several miles away. Neighbors reported having their windows blown out and doors blasted off the hinges.

Moses Glover was inside his nearby home in the 4200 block of Labyrinth Road when he heard a boom and looked outside his window. Suddenly, a second blast knocked the 77-year-old off of his feet, he said.

“It knocked me across the bed,” Glover said. “I came downstairs and saw all of the front of the houses across the street, they were on the ground. I had a picture window downstairs, the glass is in the chair now.”

Moses struggled to steady his breathing and said he was “shook up” by the experience.

Jordan Ciesielczyk-Gibson, 31, who lives about a mile away from where the explosion occurred, was in bed Monday morning when he was startled by the loud blast.

“I heard the boom, and I was like, ‘what was that?’ Then, the whole house shook,” said Ciesielczyk-Gibson, “It all happened so fast.”

This photo provided by WJLA-TV shows the scene of an explosion in Baltimore on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. Baltimore firefighters say an explosion has leveled several homes in the city.  (WJLA-TV via AP)

The explosion destroyed the home of Major Watkins Jr., 88, and Caroline Youngblood, 90. Watkins, a U.S. Army artillery veteran, said the blast “sounded like Korea.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a tweet that he was “closely monitoring” the situation.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in northwest Baltimore following this morning’s horrific explosion,” he said. “We have reached out to offer our full support to the ongoing response and recovery efforts, and are deeply grateful to the first responders on the scene.”

While the exact cause of the blasts are not immediately clear, many Baltimore-area gas lines are in serious need of repair – a project that could take BGE at least two decades to complete, The Sun reported last year.

BGE, the nation’s oldest gas utility with origins dating to 1817, likely needs to replace thousands of miles of obsolete pipes.

Leaks are so frequent that nearly two dozen of them are discovered each day, on average, according to data the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. reports to federal authorities. The number of leaks increased by 75% from 2009 to 2016 – amid what officials called a “dramatic” increase in the failure of pipe joints dating from the 1950s and 1960s.

Nearly 680,000 Baltimore-area residents and businesses use natural gas to heat homes, buildings and water or to cook on stovetops, and that number has grown 3.5% over the past five years.

(The Baltimore Suns Christine Condon, Scott Dance, Justin Fenton and Thalia Juarez contributed to this article.)