Terrina Fetters was left yesterday with little more than the clothes on her back -- and in her wash basket -- after a gasoline tanker crashed near her Cumberland home Saturday, causing a series of explosions that destroyed her house and seven others.
"We were very lucky; somebody could've been killed and we're just lucky that nobody was," said Mrs. Fetters, 22, who was at a nearby laundromat when the tractor-trailer rig crashed near the front door of her brick row house and spilled more than 8,000 gallons of gasoline.
Damage was initially estimated at $200,000.
Cumberland Police Officer William Wharton said a more serious tragedy was averted because most of the gasoline had leaked out by the time that heat from the burning homes caused the top of the tanker to blow off.
"If it had been loaded with fuel when it blew, we'd have had a lot of people dead," said Officer Wharton.
The truck driver, Anthony Elgin Morris, 33, of Woodbridge, Va., told police he lost his brakes and turned sharply on a curving ramp to avoid slamming into nearby houses. The rig hit a curb, turned over on its side and slid within 15 feet of the brick row houses along Central and Maryland avenues on Cumberland's east side.
Mr. Morris was charged with negligent driving and failure to adjust and maintain brakes on the truck he was operating for Eastern Motor Transport Inc.
Cumberland Deputy Fire Chief James Koontz said much of the fuel leaked into storm drains, where it could have spread flames throughout Cumberland if it had ignited. "There's no question that this could have been a much bigger tragedy," he said.
The fire left at least eight families homeless. All of them found shelter with relatives, except for one woman who was staying at a nearby hotel yesterday, police said.
Mrs. Fetters said she left her house about a half-hour before the crash, accompanied by her 2-year-old son, to do some wash at a neighborhood laundromat. A short time later, her husband's cousin, Cherylyn Bosley, rushed in with news of the crash and the neighborhood's evacuation.
Mrs. Fetters was unable to return home. Authorities kept residents away as a precaution before a series of explosions turned the houses into an inferno.
"It's a good thing I didn't go in," she said. "I would've wanted to take everything out with me. I probably wouldn't have ever come back out alive."
She said that at the time of the crash, she had been planning a backyard birthday party for her son. She held it yesterday anyway -- at her mother's house.