Gas explosion levels Baltimore homes; 1 person killed and six seriously hurt
A natural gas explosion destroyed three row houses in Baltimore on Monday morning, killing a woman and trapping other people in the debris. At least six people were seriously injured, and firefighters were searching for more survivors.
Dozens of firefighters converged on the piles of rubble. A fourth house in the row was ripped open, and windows were shattered in nearby homes, leaving the northwest Baltimore neighborhood of Reisterstown Station strewn with glass and other rubble.
“It’s a disaster. It’s a mess. It’s unbelievable,” said Diane Glover, who lives across the street. Her windows where shattered and her front door was blown open. “I’m still shaken up,” she said hours later.
Six people were hospitalized, while a woman was pronounced dead at the scene, a fire spokeswoman said. Rescuers were painstakingly going through the rubble by hand, prepared to work into the night.
“We’re trying to make sure that we comb through every area to determine if there are any victims inside,” Baltimore Fire Department spokeswoman Blair Adams said at an afternoon news conference.
Although the cause of the explosion wasn’t immediately clear, the Baltimore Sun reported last year that dangerous gas leaks had become much more frequent in recent years, with nearly two dozen discovered each day on average, according to the utility’s reports to federal authorities. BGE is the nation’s oldest gas utility; its origins date to 1817. Thousands of miles of the utility’s obsolete pipes need to be replaced, a job it estimated would cost nearly $1 billion and take two decades, the newspaper said.
BGE said it responded to the scene at the fire department’s request to shut off all gas and electric service to make the scene safe. BGE has canvassed the area and found no current readings of gas. A statement from the utility said it will conduct an investigation of its equipment in the area.
“Area inspections will encompass homes and gas equipment in a wide area to ensure there is no additional damage,” the statement said. “In addition, BGE is reviewing records for this area, including any reported gas odors, recent inspection results and repairs.”
Glover, 56, and her 77-year-old father, Moses Glover, were at home in a row house across the street from the homes that were leveled by the blast. She heard a massive explosion that shook their house, knocking over a fan and some of her DVDs.
“I jumped up to see what was going on. I looked out the bathroom window and there was a house on the ground,” she said. “It sounded like a bomb went off.”
The explosion shattered their windows and blew open her front door, bending the door frame. She saw debris and broken glass everywhere.
Neighbors scrambled toward the rubble, calling out for survivors until firefighters and police officers responded and took over.
BGE asked the Maryland Public Service Commission to approve a new gas system infrastructure and a cost recovery mechanism in late 2017 to pay for upgrades.
“Founded in 1816, BGE is the oldest gas distribution company in the nation. Like many older gas systems, a larger portion of its gas main and services infrastructure consists of cast iron and bare steel — materials that are obsolete and susceptible to failure with age,” the PSC wrote in a 2018 order approving a modernization plan.
When aging pipes fail, they tend to make headlines. Last year, a gas explosion ripped the facade off a Maryland office complex in Columbia, affecting more than 20 businesses. No one was injured in the explosion early on a Sunday morning. In 2016, a gas main break forced the evacuation of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse. Under Armour Inc. had to evacuate its Baltimore office after a gas main break in 2012.
Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott said he needs “the entire city of Baltimore right now to focus on hopeful prayers for those individuals that have been impacted by this.”
“I want everybody in the city really to rally around those individuals that are still fighting for their lives,” he said at a news conference.
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