Columbia, MO- A Columbia Fire Department official said last night that a natural gas leak likely caused a deadly explosion Friday that killed a retired University of Missouri engineering professor and critically injured his wife.
Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said investigators were “pretty comfortable” in attributing the explosion and fire at 308 McNab Drive to a gas leak. “All the physical signs at the scene point to a natural gas line problem,” he said.
But before a final cause is determined, Sapp said, investigators plan to look at videos of the house taken by passers-by and “dash cam” recordings from Columbia police cars that arrived at the scene where 87-year-old Carl Sneed died.
Sapp said he also is waiting for interview transcripts from East Campus residents who spoke to police. “Theres a lot of information floating around, and were just trying to nail this all down before we say what happened,” he said.
Sapp said investigators also hope to talk to Merna Sneed, 84, who was in critical condition last night at University Hospital.
“Wed like to ask her several things: Was she familiar with anything being left on in the house? Was she experiencing any problems with appliances? Did she smell gas when she first came in? And the only two people who know the answers to those questions are her and her husband,” Sapp said.
Linda Sneed, one of the Sneeds three daughters, has said she was told that her mother has a “low probability of survival” after suffering burns over more than 40 percent of her body.
Ameren spokesman Mike Cleary said the extent of the utilitys investigation was a records search to determine when and whether any gas line problems were reported to the company.
Cleary said he was concerned about reports from Sneeds neighbors of a strong odor of gas in the air before the explosion.
“No one reported it to us,” Cleary said yesterday. “If it was so strong, why didnt they report it? Thats why were concerned.”
Cleary said he did not know whether a charred gas pipe that was removed Friday from rubble by an Ameren worker was being analyzed for the investigation.
But Sapp said the pipe segment, taken from the “supply side” of the gas meter, is scheduled for pressure testing at an Ameren laboratory.
A composite aluminum gas meter at the Sneeds home melted in the fire, officials said. A small gas leak on the back side of the meter is believed to have been caused by the explosion.
The most recent gas problem reported at the Sneeds three-bedroom home was in 2002, when an automatic gas line meter stopped sending a radio signal to Ameren. The Sneeds did not report that problem; it was discovered by an Ameren employee and later fixed by workers, Cleary said.