NY – At least 23 homes, businesses damaged after house explodes with family inside.

By Brokke J. Sherman, Star-Gazette – An early morning explosion Saturday blew apart one home, damaged about two dozen other buildings and left five people hospitalized.

Authorities believe the blast was caused by natural gas. What was left after the explosion was destroyed by fire.

The home of Ken and Christina Peterson at 714 Fox St. exploded shortly after 5 a.m., officials said. The Petersons were home at the time with two of their children – sons Andrew and Tyler – and a nephew, Zack Peterson. All were hospitalized.

Neighbors were pulling the Petersons from the wreckage and flames of the home when the Horseheads Village Fire Department and the Horseheads Police Department arrived. Horseheads Town and Country Fire Department also assisted.

The explosion was strong enough to be heard and felt up to two miles away. It blew out windows in cars and homes in the neighborhood from Chemung and South Hullet streets to Lackawanna Avenue, authorities said.

Officials said at least 23 homes and businesses were affected. Three homes adjacent to the Petersons’ house were determined to be uninhabitable.

Nothing was left of the Peterson home except a smoldering pile of rubble. Plywood sections and pieces of insulation were blown into trees on the lawn, where the walls of an above-ground swimming pool and the cement block walls of a garage were crushed.

A lone bird feeder still stood perched on what was left of the smoke-stained picket fence at the home, where the charred remains of a swing set could be seen from the road.

Michael S. Smith, director of the Chemung County Office of Fire and Emergency Management, said Saturday evening that all natural gas appliances – the furnace, hot water heater and a free standing heating device – and the natural gas pipe leading to the home had been recovered and were taken to the State Police barracks in Horseheads. They will be stored as evidence and reviewed by a metallurgist specialist who will help determine what caused the explosion, he said.

New York State Electric & Gas crews were on the scene shortly after the blast, securing the scene and shutting off gas lines to the surrounding properties, said Bob Pass, regional community outreach and development manager for NYSEG.

When John Smagner arrived at his rental home at 722 Fox St. on Saturday morning, he said he didn’t need to use a key to open the door. The force of the blast had shattered two doors and several windows. Portions of the roof were buckled, tiles were cracked, and pieces of metal on the furnace were blown off, he said.

Horseheads Fire Department Deputy Chief Art Sullivan had a difficult time describing the destruction at the Peterson home.

“I was one of the first ones here,” he said. “How do you describe a house that’s blown apart?”