PERRYVILLE -- The mayor of Perryville says the 102-year-old Perryville United Methodist Church, feared to have been ruined by a propane gas tank explosion Saturday, has been found structurally stable and will be saved.
"There's a sigh of relief," Mayor Oakley A. Sumpter Jr. said. "There's nobody around here who doesn't know where it is. You can imagine all of the weddings and christenings held there."
Several of the Broad Street church's stained-glass windows were shattered and its plaster and roofing destroyed by Saturday morning's explosion, which also leveled an apartment house next door.
rTC Yesterday, structural engineers inspected the building, which had been restricted and labeled condemned since Saturday, and determined its structure is sturdy enough to stand repairs.
Officials originally said the church might have to be razed and rebuilt like other nearby buildings that sustained damage from the blast, which caused about $15 million in property damage.
An A-1 Sub Shop -- the source of the blast -- an apartment building, a cleaning store, a pet grooming establishment and two above apartments were leveled by the explosion. One woman was killed.
A bank branch, a retirement home and another group of apartments were damaged.
The blast destroyed two houses across from the sub shop and shattered windows in nearby homes and buildings.
In all, the explosion ruined the homes of about 100 people, many of whom have moved in with relatives. The local Red Cross has housed others in a motel.
Officials were pleased to have the church deemed safe so owners and inspectors can begin to view, assess and stabilize adjacent buildings, the first step to a long clean-up process.
"Now we can go in and operate with a little more comfort," Town Administrator David Culver said.
Culver said the church had been an obstacle to cleanup crews because safety officials feared that the walls would collapse and injure workers removing massive debris next to the building.
Officials predicted the renovation of the church will cost more than $1 million.
Culver said the church's insurance may cover about $700,000. Other money needed to renovate the building, he said, probably would come from corporate and residential donations.
However, some furniture, including an altar and pews, and stained glass were not damaged or can be repaired.
The church has been a landmark in the community since its founding in 1893. Other than adding a reception hall in 1915, the building had been little changed since then, Culver said.
Renovation should begin soon. Meanwhile, many church-goers will attend services at Principio United Methodist Church, a few miles away, Culver said.
Sumpter said building inspectors also determined yesterday that 17-unit apartment building at the end of Broad Street, to the left of the ruins and opposite the church, would have to be razed because its foundation is weak.
Inspectors are still pondering whether Perry Villa, the retirement home, must be razed, Sumpter said.
However, he said a Maryland National Bank branch, which officials say sustained only damage to the roofs and windows, may reopen as early as tomorrow.
The mayor said he is hopeful about the rehabilitation of the Broad Street neighborhood and business community but realizes physical and emotional wounds of residents will take a while to heal.
"To bring things back to normal will take a lot of effort," Sumpter said. "We have to clear the area first and then start over."
Owners of other condemned buildings should report their insurance inspector's damage assessment to the county building inspector within a week, he said.
"We just can't have unsafe buildings standing around," Culver said.
When the debris from the area is cleared, the basements of the leveled buildings will be filled with sand and gravel until reconstruction takes place, he said.
But before the burned down area is rebuilt, Culver said representatives from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the Office of State Planning, business owners and other state officials will meet to decide what new buildings should be constructed on Broad Street and to discuss the qualifications for state funds and grants.
"Hopefully we will have a phoenix come from out of the fire," Culver said. "Maybe we can do something that will be really attractive to the area. Like a senior housing center, a grocery store or apartments over commercial units."
As for now, he said, town officials are mainly concerned about housing residents displaced by the explosion and fire.
Sumpter said state and Cecil County officials will continue to help local authorities assess the damage of the disaster area this week.