4 injured as explosion levels Western Pennsylvania house, damages dozens of neighboring homes

Monday, November 27th 2006, 9:50 pm
By: News On 6

NEW CASTLE, Pa. (AP) -- Four people were injured in an explosion that leveled a house, sparked a fire that gutted one nearby and damaged 20 other homes Monday afternoon, authorities said.

A natural gas leak was suspected as the cause of the blast just after noon, said New Castle Fire Chief Jeff Scrim.

"We know the roof, we were told, went 200 feet in the air, so we know the explosion was pretty potent," he said.

The blast was felt a mile away and sent debris through the walls of some of the other homes, police and neighbors said.

"There's destruction everywhere," neighbor Bonnie Lemmon said. "Everybody's windows are busted out. There's just destruction."

Patrick Henry was inside the home, while Jared Baker and Sophia Baker, whose relationship was unclear, were on the sidewalk nearby at the time of the blast, authorities said. A fourth person, a woman, was hit by debris and treated at the scene, authorities said.

Henry was in critical condition and Jared Baker in serious condition, said a spokeswoman at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Sophia Baker was taken to West Penn Hospital, also in Pittsburgh, where her family asked that her condition not be released.

There were no complaints of gas odors before the blast and no work crews were in the area, said Columbia Gas spokesman Matt Pitzarella. Gas service to homes near the explosion was shut off.

Sean Duffee, who lives about five houses away, said the blast blew his windows out and punched a hole several feet wide through one wall.

"I'm going to board everything up and try to get everything I can out of the house and go somewhere," Duffee said.

Police and emergency crews planned to patrol the area to prevent looting.

New Castle is about 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.