Des Moines, IA- DES MOINES, Iowa — A powerful blast rocked the town of Richland on Labor Day in 1999. It was the deadliest house explosion in Iowa history.
In seconds, a natural gas explosion started a blaze that killed seven people and injured six more. Five years later, a family is on a mission to make sure all Iowans are thinking about safety from gas leaks.
On that fateful day, Larry Usovsky was trying to put up a dog pen outside of his house. He drove a steel post into a gas line that ran into their liquid propane tank.
That caused a leak which allowed the gas to seep into the basement and slowly build up for two days.
KCCI’s Cynthia Fodor spoke with one of the victims, Bev Gartner, who was injured in the blast.
“We were just sitting around the dining room table,” Gartner said. “I remember everything about that day.”
“Everything blew without any warning whatsoever,” Wanda Filner said, who lost her parents and three sisters in the explosion.
Richland house explosion, 1999
Filner still finds it hard to believe.
“It was like someone hit you in the gut,” Filner said. “This is reality.”
Her house is now a shrine to the family members she loved and lost.
There are no remnants of the explosion. A farmer filled in the hole where the house stood, bulldozed the land and turned it into a beanfield.
All that’s left is an old lawn ornament, a light pole and the survivors’ new purpose to keep others safe.
The blast turned Gartner into a burn victim.
Somehow she crawled out of the basement, but will never be able to escape the memories that haunt her.
She still hears her father’s cry for help as she stretches out her skin everyday.
“I crawled out of hell,” Gartner said.
She was burned over 70 percent of her body and she’s undergone 13 surgeries, skin grafts and two years of rehabilitation. Her son, Tray, also survived.
Gartner and her sister, Filner, now want to teach others about the dangers of natural gas and propane leaks.
They have spoken to organizations, produced a video and are on a mission to force the industry to do a better job of warning customers how to safely use liquid propane and natural gas.
“My anger has been directed at those not doing their jobs,” Filner said.
They said if they knew then what they know now, this explosion would have never ripped apart a home, their family and their lives.
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