An elderly woman was believed killed and two other people were injured today when a gas stove exploded in a Irvington rowhouse, shattering scores of surrounding windows and forcing the evacuation of the neighborhood.
City Fire Department officials said Marianne Wilderson, in her 70s, was missing and presumed dead in the rubble of her home at 321 Martingale Ave. She had lived there for nearly 45 years.
Samuel Bianco, 74, who lives at 323, was rushed by city ambulance to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he was being treated for head, face and shoulder injuries. His condition could not be determined.
Kathleen Billnyre, 70 , of 338 Marydell Road across an alley from the blasted brick and cinder block house, was taken to St. Agnes Hospital for a hand injury.
The powerful blast occurred just minutes after 10 a.m., said Fire Department spokesman Capt. Patrick P. Flynn.
The force of the blast leveled the house at 321 and tore away large chucks of 319. The explosion's ripple of concussion tore a massive hole in the second-floor wall of 317 and jumped across a small alley to 323, which sustained considerable damage to the second floor.
Debris -- beams, roofing slate, glass, pieces of furniture and clothing -- was tossed about the neighborhood and beyond by the explosion.
"It just sounded like a great big boom," said Ernest Ennels, who lives five blocks from the scene of the explosion. "I thought it was right next door."
Margaret Nolan, 82, who lives in the 300 block of Marydell, said she was in her second-floor front bedroom praying when the explosion rocked her home.
"I thought an airplane had crashed in the back of my house," she said.
More than three hours after the explosion, residents of the more than 50 surrounding homes who had been evacuated remained outside while Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers attempted to shut off the gas source. While they conducted their work, the distinct odor of gas lingered in the air.
A few of the neighborhood residents still appeared to be in shock. Some formed in tight little knots in the tidy village of red brick homes off the 4500 block of Frederick Ave. and spoke in hushed tones. Others just stared.
City firefighters, joined by members of the Baltimore County Fire Department's Advanced Technical Rescue team using specially trained retriever dogs, searched through the rubble of the house for Wilderson's body. They were hampered by weakened first-floor support beams and attempted to reach her body by approaching from the basement.
Art Slusark, a BG&E spokesman, said the utility company received a telephone complaint about a "strong odor" outdoors in the Martingale Avenue neighborhood at 9:51 a.m. The explosion occurred about 10 minutes later while a crew was en route to investigate, he said.
Slusark said the Wilderson woman was a gas customer.
Gladys Wagner, 73, said the blast rocked her back 5 feet and knocked pictures off her wall. "It also tore away parts of my ceiling. It was just terrible," she said.
Alice Hession, an assistant principal at Mount St. Joseph's High School only a few blocks away, said she was working at her desk when she heard a sound like "something crashed into our buildings.
"The windows shook . . . I shook," she said. Seconds after the explosion, Hession said, she ran outside to investigate and saw debris raining down for blocks around. No one at the school was injured, she said.