Blast rips through apartments No serious injuries in possible gas explosion in Baltimore County

'All at once, it just blew'

July 30, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien and Jamie Smith | Dennis O'Brien and Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

A powerful explosion blew off the front of a brick apartment building in Baynesville yesterday evening, leaving 10 residents homeless and three people slightly injured.

The explosion, which may have been caused by a natural gas leak, forced the evacuation of 22 people from neighboring apartments and closed a key Baltimore County intersection during rush hour.

Fire officials said no one was seriously injured in the blast that occurred shortly after 5 p.m. at Loch Bend Apartments in the 8700 block of Loch Bend Drive, a complex of two-story brick buildings.

Neighbors said the blast shook nearby homes and could be felt a block away.

"I was just sitting on the couch and heard a big boom," said Jeanne Wellner, 30, who lives across the street with her son D. J., 7, and had a clear view of the explosion. "Bricks and glass just came out. All at once, it just blew."

Joseph DePasquale, who lives in the building where the blast occurred, was in his first-floor living room when the force of the blast threw him off his sofa. "It was just like a really loud blast," he said. "It was unbelievable."

Capt. Michael Robinson, a Baltimore County Fire Department spokesman, said the cause of the explosion was being investigated.

Robinson said that initial signs indicate the blast may have been caused by either a leak from a natural gas line or a malfunction of a gas appliance.

He said bomb squad investigators have ruled out a bomb, and that the first firefighters on the scene detected on odor of gas. Firefighters also found higher than average levels of gas in the air using gas detection devices, Robinson said.

But Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials said they could find no evidence of a gas leak.

"As of right now, the cause of the blast is unknown," BGE spokesman Karl Neddenien said last night.

The complex is owned by Apartment Services Inc. of Baltimore.

The owners were unavailable last night, but Robinson estimated that the apartment complex is 40 to 50 years old.

Robinson said the 10 people who lived in the five apartments destroyed by the blast along with the 22 people in neighboring apartments, were being housed in a nearby motel. He said there was no way of knowing when any of them would be allowed to return to their homes.

One firefighter was treated at the scene for heat exhaustion, and two occupants in the building where the blast occurred suffered minor injuries, Robinson said.

An unidentified woman appeared shaken after the blast, but declined medical treatment and left the scene, fire officials said.

DePasquale, 55, was treated at St. Joseph Medical Center and released, hospital and fire officials said.

He said he was watching television and baby-sitting his sister's two grandchildren when the blast threw him off his couch and onto the floor, where he injured his right shoulder.

"When I heard the sound, the first thing I thought of was the kids," DePasquale said.

He said that the two children, 5 and 7, were playing out front and were not injured.

"I was watching 'Baywatch,' if you can believe that," he told relatives who sat with him on concrete steps near the scene.

The blast snarled traffic at Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road, forcing police to divert drivers for about two hours. That turned James and Eleanor Phillips' afternoon shopping trip into a lengthy excursion along secondary roads to reach their Parkville home.

"We're retired so it's not like we're in a big hurry," said Eleanor Phillips, as the couple sat in traffic on Loch Raven Boulevard.

Neighbors who live near the damaged apartment building said the explosion shook their homes.

Joe Pineno said he felt the explosion a block away in his apartment in the 3100 block of Raven Drive.

"Everything just shook," said Pineno. "It sounded like a car being crashed into real hard. That's what we thought it was."

"I sure did hear it," said Angela Fekishazy, who lives in an apartment building off Loch Bend Drive near the scene. "My plate did a jump on the table."

DePasquale said he had gotten a telephone call an hour before the explosion from an insurance agent offering him renter's insurance. He declined the offer -- and regretted it.

"The timing was amazing, if you think about it," he said.

Pub Date: 7/30/98

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