Explosion Levels South Philadelphia Home, 8 Hurt

Adjoining homes brought down after blast inside home in South Philadelphia

A South Philadelphia row home exploded and collapsed Monday, sending eight people to the hospital and shifting the routine of the day into a panic-stricken morning for neighbors.

"I thought somebody dropped a bomb in the middle of my block! It went boom! And then you just seen glass fly from over the roof," said Danielle James. She was leaning out a second-floor window and talking to a neighbor on the sidewalk below at the moment of the blast.

"I went through every room and took my kids and just said, 'Get out now!'"

The explosion came from inside the basement of a home at 428 Daly Street around 11 a.m. The home was being rehabbed and a contractor was working on a water heater, according to Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer. That man was critically injured, suffering severe burns to his shoulder and arms.

The explosion destroyed at least three homes along Daly Street. From the air, debris of wood, brick and glass can be seen strewn in all directions.

In addition to the contractor, police say, seven others were hurt -- four other adults, a 15-year-old and two infants. The infants are one month and three months old, and their injuries are not serious.

Laura McColgan lives around the corner. "I'm still shaking," she said, recounting her experience.

"I was upstairs brushing my teeth. I heard a very loud noise. Not being sure what it was, I came downstairs and went out my back door," McColgan said. "I went outside and saw everyone running around the corner. I saw the building down, saw the smoke and smelled the horrible smell of gas as well."

Iman Sedaris was eating breakfast with his family when the earth shook. Sedaris grabbed his wife, daughter, a friend and as they ran out the front door, his neighbor yelled for help.

"My friend, oh my God, he has a small baby. He ran outside, I saw him and he said, 'Please, take my baby and I took him."

Daly Street sits in a residential area of South Philadelphia, populated by row homes. Emergency crews shut off traffic in the immediate area and went door-to-door to get people out of their homes, as a precaution. At the height of the evacuation 70 homes on Daly Street and Wolf Street, which is just South of Daly Street, were evacuated.

"It definitely was an explosion," McColgan said.

Fire officials confirmed that it was indeed a gas explosion. They talked to the contractor on the way to the hospital, according to Sawyer, and he told them he'd been working on the water heater because there had been some issues with the heater. Philadelphia Gas Works was on location to stop the leak, according to Sawyer.

"The main thing that's important right now is that we have nobody that died," Sawyer said.

The contractor is critically injured with burns over 22-percent of his body. He will be transferred to Temple University Hospital's burn unit. The other victims suffered minor injuries, according to Sawyer. At least one of the babies and the teenager lived in the homes on either side of the house that exploded. 

The owner of the building is SCK Investments, L.L.C. According to Rebecca Swanson with the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, four permits were issued for work on the home at 428 Daly. Three of the permits were for mechanical work that included the installation of a heating and air-conditioning system, interior alterations and plumbing.

During the three months of work, L&I inspectors came through 14 times to check the work and found no violations. Those permits were "finaled" on Friday. That means the work was completed, inspected and approved. The outstanding permit is for electrical work, which includes rewiring and installation of new outlets.

Philadelphia Police Officer Michael Duffy posted this Vine of Daly Street after the blast:

By mid-afternoon, people on Wolf Street were allowed back in their homes as well as residents on the odd-numbered side of Daly Street.

Everyone on Daly Street has been accounted for, according to city officials.

The Fire Marshall, L&I and PGW are all investigating the cause of the gas leak. Cleanup will resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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