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Baltimore explosion leaves one dead, others injured

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/10/2020 Emily Davies, Katie Mettler, Michael Miller
a pile of snow: Debris and rubble covers the ground in the aftermath of an explosion in Baltimore on Monday. Baltimore firefighters say an explosion has leveled several homes in the city. (Julio Cortez/AP) Debris and rubble covers the ground in the aftermath of an explosion in Baltimore on Monday. Baltimore firefighters say an explosion has leveled several homes in the city. (Julio Cortez/AP)

One woman died and others were injured when an explosion razed homes in Baltimore on Monday morning.

The explosion involved three rowhouses at Labyrinth and Reistertown roads and left multiple people, including children, trapped under rubble, according to the Baltimore City Fire Department.

Four people have been transported to a hospital in serious condition. As of 12:30 p.m. Monday, firefighters were rescuing one additional person from the rubble, the department said on Twitter.

“We don’t know if we have other victims under the rubble at this point,” said Baltimore City Fire Chief Roman Clark in an interview with local news station WBAL-TV. “Our fire and rescuers are doing everything by hand.”

Fire department spokeswoman Blair Adams said the rescue efforts were “labor intensive” and that homes “pretty much crumbled” with the force of the blast, which blew out windows at homes as far as two blocks away.

Linda Foy, spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co, said that the cause of the explosion has not been determined but that employees are on the scene trying to turn off the supply to all structures to “make the area safe.”

Leon Phillips, 64, said he smelled gas coming from the air vents Monday morning when he left 4232 Labyrinth Road at around 6 a.m. for his job as a food delivery driver. His best friend was still asleep in his room down the hall.

About three hours later, Phillips started getting calls from neighbors who feared he had been hurt or killed in the blast.

“Leon, you better get down here. Your house got blown up,” the neighbor said.

Phillips raced home to find his house reduced to rubble.

He stood Monday afternoon behind a line of bright yellow police tape, phone in hand, trying to reach his friend. He had not heard from him or the pregnant woman who lived in the basement with her daughter and a man.

Moments after the explosion rocked the area, neighbors poured out of their houses and rushed through the chunks of glass and wooden shards to search for survivors.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Provided by The Washington Post a group of people riding on the back of a car © Provided by The Washington Post

Albert Senwah, 21, ran in sweatpants and sandals toward the smell of gas and the sound of people yelling.

He approached the wide gap in a row of houses, stunned by the destruction. He started throwing chunks aside, trying to locate a woman’s voice. After running home to put on boots, he spent another 45 minutes digging through the debris alongside first responders, Senwah said.

He said the first two people he saw pulled from the rubble were middle-aged or older men. One of them was bleeding from his head and the other appeared to have severe burns on his body and a broken ankle.

Senwah also saw them pull a woman out whose clothes were tattered. She was covered in dust, he said, and had some cuts on her legs.

He said he also heard at least one child crying from what appeared to be the basement.

“This definitely won’t be forgotten,” he said.

Councilman Isaac Schleifer was at the scene within moments of the explosion. He ran from his house nearby where he was eating cereal with his daughters. He arrived to find people covered in blood with neighbors trying to apply bandages amid the ruin.

“It is a horrific tragedy,” Schleifer said. “Horrific.”

Schleifer spent hours knocking on doors near the explosion, telling occupants through shattered windows that the city would make sure they had a place to sleep Monday night.

“The pandemic adds another layer of challenges but we will make sure it happens,” he said, adding the city is working with the Red Cross.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in a tweet that his office is “closely monitoring the situation” after “this morning’s horrific explosion.”

“We have reached out to offer our full support to the ongoing response and recovery efforts, and are deeply grateful to the first responders on the scene,” Hogan said.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) stood amid first responders and eyewitnesses Monday afternoon, wearing a mask with the Baltimore flag on it.

“All I want to do is offer my prayers,” he said.

As rescue operations stretched into Monday afternoon, neighbors sat in their front yards while people walked past offering to board up their windows. Caution tape was pulled across the entrances to the backyards directly behind the blast and pieces of clothing hung from trees, the smell of gas in the air.

Phillips’s grandchildren, who had been over to see him Sunday evening, sat on a stoop nearby, face masks failing to cover their fear and confusion.

“Everybody was calling me trying to make sure I’m all right since my kids were there last night,” said Auriell McFadden, Phillips’s daughter-in-law. She said she thought her father in law was dead.

“He didn’t answer the phone,” she said. “He scared me.”

“I scared you?” Phillip responded.

His missing roommate was McFadden’s uncle. She was desperately trying to find out what happened to him.

Meanwhile, Phillip was grappling with what he had lost inside his exploded home: a month’s worth of rent he had stashed beneath his mattress and, more importantly, photos of his grandsons he didn’t know if he could replace.

The pandemic and recession were bad enough.

“Now this happens,” he said, suddenly without a home.

But it could have been worse, he said.

“I’m praying for everyone in there, that they are okay,” he said. “It could’ve been me, and my grandkids.”

a group of people standing in front of a car: Paramedics wheel a person away from the scene of an explosion, presumably gas related, that destroyed several rowhouses in Baltimore. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post) Paramedics wheel a person away from the scene of an explosion, presumably gas related, that destroyed several rowhouses in Baltimore. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

William Ewell, 32, was startled out of bed when he heard a loud boom around 9:30 Monday morning.

“I thought we were under attack or in war,” Ewell said, who lives three doors down on the opposite side of the street from the explosion. “That’s what I initially thought.”

His house alarm was blasting, the living room windows were shattered, and glass covered the floor. The storm door was broken off its hinges.

When he peered outside, Ewell saw what looked like a demolition site where his neighbors homes once sat.

“I was just stunned,” he said. “I have never experienced anything like this in my whole life.”

Suanique Marshall, 27, lives less than a block from the scene and felt little more than a “jerk” while she was getting her young daughter ready for the day. She was not aware of the explosion until a friend called to say something had happened on her block.

She later learned that her cousins had helped pull people from the rubble before authorities arrived on the scene.

Paul Duggan and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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