Pontoon Beach, IL- About 6:30 a.m. Friday, Nikki Rodgers was sitting in the living room of her home at 135 Emerald Way East in Pontoon Beach when her next-door neighbor’s house exploded.
“A whole piece of drywall came down on my head,” she said. “But I’m OK.”
She was the only person injured in the explosion. A dog in the backyard of the destroyed home escaped uninjured.
“We heard ‘boom’ and sheets of drywall came down and it was snowing insulation. We were moving huge sheets of drywall out of the way to get out of the house,” Rodgers said.
Paramedics treated her at the scene. She was holding an ice bag on the large lump forming on her head.
Her home is a complete loss.
“I don’t care. All that matters is that my family is OK,” Rodgers said. She and her husband, Kenny, were the only ones home. “I don’t care about anything. I just wanted to hold and hug my husband.”
All that’s left of the home at 131 Emerald Way East in Pontoon Beach was a smoldering pile of broken, scorched timber and drifts of white insulation. Nothing remotely recognizable as a house remained after it exploded Friday morning.
The owners of the home were on a trip in St. Charles, Mo., when the house exploded. Laura J. Williams lived at the residence, according to public records, as did Jeffrey Mayer. They declined comment at the scene. The family dog, a Rottweiler, was in the backyard and escaped injury. Homes close to the destroyed house were severely damaged by the concussion and flying debris.
Debris hung from trees and drifts of white insulation covered neighborhood yards and blew across roofs. The side of Rodgers’ house buckled and crumbled from the concussion and windows on surrounding homes were shattered. The paint on a white car in the driveway of the destroyed house was burned away, its windshield broken and its body covered in dents from flying debris. Garage doors on homes across the street were buckled and bent inward and windows blown out from the concussion.
Emerald Meadows is a newer neighborhood near Horseshoe Lake Road and Illinois 162 in Pontoon Beach.
Marty Heiler said the explosion reminded him of the time he spent in Iraq during the Gulf War. His family lives about five houses away from the explosion.
“It was like being back in Desert Storm when the Scud missiles were coming down on me,” he said. “The concussion was incredible. It knocked all the nails out of my drywall. I have a piece of their roof in my backyard. At first we thought it was the steel mill going up and my daughter was screaming and crying. She was pretty scared.”
Sharon Daniele was sleeping in her home two doors down from the explosion.
“We heard it and hurried up and got out of our house as fast as possible,” Daniele said. “It felt like an airplane hit the house. I opened my eyes and I couldn’t see because I was covered with insulation.”
The ceilings in Daniele’s house crumpled in the explosion and spilled piles of white blown-in insulation into her home.
“We have major, major damage,” Daniele said. “We were worried about Nikki and Kenny because they were screaming and screaming and we didn’t know if they were okay. We didn’t know what had happened. Oh, it was just horrible.”
Neighbors said the family at 131 Emerald Way East have lived in the home for a couple of years and weren’t well known around the neighborhood. They did say two teen boys lived at the home.
The explosion could be felt blocks away.
“We felt it around 6:30 a.m.,” said Joe Hayden. Hayden lives on Lake Drive, which is about six blocks away from the destroyed home at 131 Emerald Way East. “I thought Granite City Steel blew up. It felt like an earthquake. We heard about it so we decided to come up here and take a look.”
Long Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Danny Kreher said the explosion remains under investigation
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and this is the most devastating explosion I’ve ever seen.”
He said flames appeared to be coming from the basement of the home, and the fire department was able to extinguish the fire in about 20 minutes after it arrived.
The family was notified and was at the house by 9:15 a.m. Friday but declined to speak to reporters. A Red Cross Disaster Response vehicle was on the scene providing hot beverages to emergency personnel and the family.
Pontoon Beach Police Chief Charles Luehmann said the explosion appears to have been caused by a natural gas leak. Investigators from the Office of the State Fire Marshal were on the scene.
Ameren utility workers were also there and using devices to sniff the neighborhood yards for natural gas leaks. Gas to the entire neighborhood was cut, Kreher said.
While residents from miles away to the west felt the explosion and thought it was an earthquake, others in Pontoon Beach were unaware of it until they saw news reports.