Mathias, West VA- Thomas VanMeter had finished making a delivery to an automobile repair shop in Hardy County shortly before a natural gas line inside

the building exploded.

If VanMeter had stayed to have one of his customary talks with one of the Mathias Garage employees, he would have been inside when the building blew apart Tuesday morning.

“We usually sit in there and talk a little bit. But today she said she had to go pick up some parts in Harrisonburg, Va.,” VanMeter said.

The 10:30 a.m. explosion leveled the building, shattered windows in homes for miles and injured five people. One was treated and released and the others are being treated at burn units in hospitals in Pittsburgh and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Paul Lewis, Hardy County’s emergency services director, said Wednesday.

State Route 259 remained closed early Wednesday and it may be early evening before a couple of hundred residents living within two-mile radius of the blast are able to return home, Lewis said. Investigators want a chance to sift through debris before allowing residents to return.

“Most people went to relatives or friends overnight,” Lewis said. “We’re glad that most people are patient with us. It’s not something we wanted to do.”

VanMeter said he drove back to the shop when he first heard the blast. He got there as firefighters arrived.

“It was a pretty wicked explosion,” he said. “There had been a gun shop upstairs over the garage, and I could hear the bullets going off.”

VanMeter had to use another road to return to his home store in Petersburg.

“This is something you see on TV a lot, but you never think it would happen here. I definitely did a lot of thinking going down the road,” he said. “I have a lot to be thankful for.”

Lewis said a gas line feeding the shop had been leaking, but officials don’t know what caused it to explode.