Akron, OH – By Stephen Dyer, Beacon Journal staff writer
A natural gas explosion Sunday afternoon at an Akron housing complex rattled nerves of nearby residents and destroyed a vacant apartment.
Kathryn Roth was among those whose afternoon plans were put on hold after the explosion that sent a gas company worker to the hospital.
A pot roast and ribs were slowly cooking in her oven shortly before the blast. All they needed were beans from the garden she had planted behind her Ogle Terrace townhome.
She grabbed a bowl and made her way out the sliding glass door that leads to her little backyard garden.
Across the grassy knoll, Dominion East Ohio gas worker Bob Cafrey opened the door to the easternmost townhouse in the complex right behind Roth’s around 5 p.m. He was investigating reports of a natural gas odor.
When he opened the door, he immediately saw something he didn’t like — the gas range hookups were working great, but the range was gone. He plugged the interior gas lines and went outside to turn off gas to the apartment.
Just as Roth crossed the threshold of her sliding glass door, a force knocked her back. She dropped her bowl, struggling to stand against the force.
Jimmie Thomas — deputy executive director of Alpha Phi Alpha Homes Inc. — was checking out a backed-up sewer pipe in Building 6 of the Ogle Terrace complex. Somebody had put underwear, baby diapers and grease in the pipes, plugging them up. He left church to examine the sludge.
Then he heard the blast — which caused the force that knocked back the backyard gardener and shook the 15-story Henry A. Callis Tower located about 500 feet from the explosion. He turned and saw a fireball rise above his townhomes. Then came the smoke.
“They never said they’re going to be perfect days every day,” Thomas said later.
Cafrey, the Dominion worker, was knocked senseless. He was taken to Akron General Medical Center for treatment for bumps and bruises and singed eyebrows. He was released after a couple hours.
Akron Fire Deputy Chief Dan Eletich said although Cafrey’s injuries were relatively minor, he was shaken up.
People had moved Friday out of the unit that exploded. They had taken the range and left the gas on.
Damage is estimated at $80,000.
No one else was injured — a miracle to Roth. It helped that the units surrounding the one that exploded were mostly vacant while Alpha homes renovates the complex.
Usually the neighborhood kids flock to Roth’s place for food on Sundays. But there weren’t any in the path of the blast, which literally ripped the roof from the townhome and blew pipes hundreds of feet.
“I thought it was a bomb,” Roth said. “I kept trying to move forward, but couldn’t.”
She looked over at her garden and bent over. This time, though, she wasn’t picking beans.
She carefully held up the shards of glass that now were planted in her garden among the beans.