Children were heard screaming for help after a deadly gas explosion leveled three Baltimore homes, killing one woman and seriously injuring six others, as rescuers continue to search for possible survivors.
Baltimore Fire confirmed an adult female was pronounced dead at the scene and six other people have been taken to hospital in a serious condition following the devastating blast that ripped through the row homes at Labyrinth and Reisterstown Road just before 10 a.m. Monday morning.
The conditions and identities of the victims have not been disclosed but the president of the firefighters’ union said Monday afternoon a number of people were ‘fighting for their lives’.
More than 200 emergency responders and search dogs are still combing the scene for signs of life as fears grow that there may be other residents still unaccounted for.
Shocking images from the scene show three homes completely flattened and a fourth with its side ripped off.
Meanwhile the windows in more than a dozen nearby properties were blown out and authorities warned residents that several homes in the area could be unsafe following the devastating blast that was heard several blocks away.
Shocked neighbor Kevin Matthews, who has lived on Labyrinth Road for 28 years, told the Chicago Tribune he rushed to the scene of the explosion just after 10 a.m. and could hear the cries of children trapped under the homes.
‘Come get us! We’re stuck!’ he heard children screaming from the rubble before the emergency services arrived.
Local firefighters were called to the area of the 6500 block of Reisterstown Road Monday morning after the blast ripped through several homes.
Three victims in a critical condition were pulled from the rubble by firefighters a short time later and were rushed to hospital, and another person – an adult woman – was pronounced dead at the scene.
A fifth victim – an adult woman – was rescued just before noon, followed by an adult male at around 12:15 p.m.
Both were taken to hospital in a serious condition, authorities said. It is not clear when the seventh victim was rescued.
Baltimore Fire confirmed in a press conference at midday that the blast was caused by a gas explosion and an investigation was under way.
‘It’s a labor intensive rescue. Again, it was a major gas explosion so you had homes that were pretty much crumbled – a ton of debris on the ground that we’re trying to comb through,’ said city fire spokeswoman Blair Adams.
Baltimore fire chief Niles Ford described it as a ‘horrendous situation’.
No further details of the cause of the blast were provided but officials from Baltimore Gas and Electric Company were also at the scene.
‘We are on the scene and working closely with the fire department to make the situation safe,’ said Baltimore Gas and Electric spokesperson Richard Yost in a statement.
‘Crews are working to turn off gas to the buildings in the immediate area. Once the gas is off we can begin to safely assess the situation including inspections of BGE equipment.’
The BGE later said it was turning the gas off in the area which it said would also cut off the supply to unaffected properties further afield.
Initial reports said five people, including children, were trapped following a ‘major explosion’ in the residential area Monday morning.
Baltimore police scanners said they were responding to a ‘mass casualty’ that impacted a three block radius and ‘completely destroyed’ three homes.
‘We are borderline mass casualty at this point. This explosion has affected at least a three block radius up here,’ a police scanner said at the time.
‘Three dwellings completely destroyed.’
Horrifying images of the aftermath show the row homes completely destroyed and collapsed to rubble.
Bricks and rubble are all that remain where the homes once stood, while debris covered the surrounding homes in the area.
Across the street from the blast, several homes had their windows blown out from the force of the explosion.
Dust and debris filled the air and, at one point, firefighters were seen using a chainsaw to cut through the roof of a collapsed building.
Off duty special rescue operations personnel were drafted in to support the rescue operation due to the scale of the incident.
The Red Cross and local housing association were also on the scene by the afternoon to support the families displaced by the blast as authorities warned several nearby homes could also be in danger of collapse.
One survivor Major Watkins Jr., an 88-year-old army veteran whose home was completely destroyed in the explosion, told The Baltimore Sun the blast ‘sounded like Korea.’
Other eyewitnesses told CBS Baltimore they heard a large boom and felt the ground shake, with workers at a local store saying they felt the blast several blocks away.
‘I heard a kaboom and I thought it was a car or something and when I came out, I seen the debris and something’s gone, totally gone,’ one woman told the outlet.
Another neighbor told how he ran from his home barefoot after hearing the blast.
He said he could smell gas and smoke and could hear someone calling for ‘help’ from under the rubble.
‘It was catastrophic. It was like a bomb, like you watch things in other countries where they have like bombings and things like that,’ Dean Jones told CBS Baltimore.
‘It was like watching that in real life. Telephone poles split, I mean, houses down the block, broken glass.
‘When I initially got there, I could hear a voice just saying help. It’s crazy. It’s something I don’t ever wanna see ever again – I don’t want to relive it ever again.’
The blast comes after a series of other gas leaks in Maryland in recent years amid ongoing complaints that the infrastructure is in need of repair.
Last year, a gas explosion ripped the front off an office complex in Columbia, housing more than 20 businesses.
The explosion occurred on a Sunday morning, meaning no one was in the building at the time and there were no victims.
This followed a gas main break in 2016 which forced the evacuation of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse and a similar evacuation at the offices of Under Armour after a gas main break in 2012.
In 2018, the BGE asked the Maryland Public Service Commission to approve a new gas system infrastructure and a cost recovery mechanism to pay for upgrades needed to close the system’s many leaks.
‘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,’ BGE said at the time.