Pittsburgh, PA – By Luis Fabregas TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Lacey Cook had just set foot onto the pavement in front of her Spring Hill apartment building when an explosion tore through the structure, igniting a blaze that filled the sky and throwing her back into her car.
“It just hit me in the face,” said Cook, 20, who lives in the Three Rivers Manor complex with her 16-month-old son, Antoine. “I started screaming. I’ve never been so scared.”
More than 30 Spring Hill residents were sent running for safety at about 10:30 p.m. Friday when a natural-gas line exploded as Equitable Gas Co. crews worked to repair a leak at 2146 Rhine St. The three-alarm fire engulfed the top left portion of the building. Pittsburgh fire officials said six people were injured, including two firefighters and two Equitable workers.
Cynthia Jones, a 41-year-old mother who lived in the building, remained in fair condition last night at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side. The other injured, including Jones’ 12-year-old son, suffered minor injuries and did not require hospitalization, according to a hospital supervisor.
About a dozen gas company vehicles surrounded the gutted building Saturday as workers tried to determine the cause of the explosion. Fire officials said it might have been caused by a faulty gas line. Equitable crews were dispatched to the complex Friday after residents called to report an odor of gas.
The explosion roused Val Adams, who had just dozed off while watching TV four buildings down.
“All of a sudden I heard this big boom and the whole building vibrated,” Adams said. “The beds were shaking and everything. I looked out the window and I seen flames shooting up in the sky. It’s amazing somebody didn’t get killed.”
The fire was contained to the Spring Hill structure. Residents in two nearby buildings were evacuated because gas lines had been shut off as a precaution, authorities said. The buildings later were determined safe and residents will be allowed back in sometime today, officials said.
Pittsburgh Deputy Fire Chief Dan Hennessy said firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes of the explosion but the top left portion of the building already had collapsed. Hennessy said about 50 firefighters battled the blaze, along with icy conditions and temperatures near zero. The fire was contained within 30 minutes, he said. Firefighters Tom Dailey and Robert Sinicrope suffered minor injuries, Hennessy said.
Cook, who has lived in the building for about two years, said this isn’t the first time residents have complained about gas odors.
“They told us it was OK to go in the building. They don’t care,” she said. “We have nowhere to go.”