Home explodes in a DC suburb: ‘It’s just a pile of bricks’

Home explodes in a DC suburb: 'It's just a pile of bricks'

ROCKVILLE, Md. — A house in a Maryland suburb of the nation’s capital was levelled early Friday by a thunderous explosion heard for miles around, a blast so powerful it shattered windows and caused other damage to several neighbouring homes, authorities said.

The explosion rocked the sleepy Washington, D.C., bedroom community of Rockville at around 1 a.m. and scattered debris widely through a neighbourhood just miles north of the capital, a fire official said.

Authorities said they had no reports of any injuries but neighbours said a man lived in the home and investigators didn’t know his immediate status or if the house was occupied at the time. Investigators and search and rescue dogs were on the scene at daybreak.

“It’s just a pile of debris; it’s just a pile of bricks. There’s not anything left of the house,” said Pete Piringer, chief spokesman for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service. “I’ve heard there were calls from miles away, people calling.”

The powerful jolt shook neighbours from their sleep, including Luzia Ricci.

“I could feel it underground,” she said of the explosion in the neighbourhood of modest, mostly one-story single family homes. “I was wondering, ‘Are we having an earthquake?’ But it was so short.”

She went outside to see what was going on and could see the flames from her backyard. She started to go closer with her daughter, but then she heard another pop and backed away.

“My husband is crazy enough to go all the way,” she said, adding he captured video of the fire.

Speaking by phone from the scene, Piringer described the home damage as “catastrophic” and added that about a dozen other houses, mostly built of brick, were damaged by a “large debris field” kicked up by the blast.

“There is collateral damage to several nearby homes,” he said, adding a cause of the blast has not yet been determined.

About 75 firefighters needed only about 20 minutes to put out the flames in the rubble, summoned by several frantic 911 calls, according to Piringer.

“The status of the occupant is unknown,” he said, adding authorities had no further information. But he said investigators would be exhaustively checking the rubble during the day as they try to determine what happened.

Piringer said there were no reports of any gas leaks before the blast but he said a gas explosion was one possibility that hadn’t been ruled out initially. But he said authorities had no additional information so early into the investigation.

He said utility workers turned off gas and power at the home and others nearby as a precaution. Fire and utility officials also went door to door asking neighbours to leave for their safety, displacing a number of local residents. Yellow police tape cordoned off the site hours later.

The neighbourhood has seen a house levelled by an explosion in recent memory. In May 2011 an explosion destroyed a home on the same street, killing two people, after a resident disconnected a clothes drier’s gas service without capping the line, Piringer said.

The Associated Press

Canadian Press