WV- An explosion destroyed a gas station near the Winterplace ski resort Tuesday morning, killing at least four people and seriously injuring at least five others.
One person from the Ghent Volunteer Fire Department and a Raleigh County building inspector were among those killed at the Flat Top Little General Store on U.S. 19, said state Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis.
Authorities said a 500-pound propane tank outside the building was leaking. They believe propane collected inside the building and ignited somehow, said Lewis.
“It is our initial thought that the fumes entered into the building and had to have an ignition point,” Lewis said. “It looks like somebody put something in that building and it blew 360 degrees.
“Imagine putting off an explosion in your home and when you walked up to your home the only thing you have left is toothpicks,” he said.
He said cold temperatures kept the gas close to the ground.
The five injured people were taken to Raleigh General Hospital, all in serious condition, said Kevin McGraw, the hospital’s marketing director.
Two patients were taken from there by ambulance to Cabell Huntington Hospital about 2 p.m. and another two were scheduled to be taken there, he said. Another patient was driven to CAMC General Hospital in Charleston.
The Ghent Volunteer Fire Department got a call at 10:43 a.m. saying there was a gas leak at the store. They dispatched a paramedic and a fire truck. Twelve minutes later, they got a call saying the store had exploded.
All that was left of the building Tuesday afternoon was a pile of debris, twisted metal framework and a sign showing the price of gasoline starting at $2.19 a gallon.
Beckley-based Little General Inc. had no comment on the explosion.
William Manning, a bartender at the nearby Bear’s Den, said he heard the explosion at his home 4 miles away in Cool Ridge. Manning drove to the store because his next-door neighbor works there. He helped carry the woman, whom he would not name, to an ambulance.
“I barely recognized her. I couldn’t believe it was her,” said Manning, who cried as he talked to The Associated Press.
He said the scene was “something you don’t want to see.”
He had seen the woman earlier Tuesday when he stopped at the store to buy cigarettes, coffee and gasoline.
“I joked around with her. I joke around with those people every day. They’re the best people.”
The explosion blew candy and hot dog wrappers into trees 200 to 300 yards from the store, said Mike McDonough of nearby Flat Top.
“I was a policeman for 25 years in New Jersey. I have never seen nothing like this,” McDonough said.
The explosion was felt at least a mile away at The Ski Shop.
“I thought we got struck by lightning. The whole building shook. The power went off,” said Ben Monast, the shop’s manager.
The explosion blew two windows out of Ghent Elementary School, at least one-eighth of a mile from the gas station, said Nelson Spencer, director of federal programs for Raleigh County schools. Nobody was hurt.
The school will have counselors available on Wednesday, Spencer said.