Explosion levels W.Va. gas station, killing 4 people; at least 5 others hurt
GHENT, W.Va. ” William Manning stopped at a convenience store near his home Tuesday to buy cigarettes, coffee and gasoline. As he often does, the bartender joked around with a neighbor who worked there before heading home.
Hours later, he returned to the store to carry his neighbor to an ambulance after fumes from a leaking propane tank exploded inside the business, shattering the building into a pile of debris and killing at least four people.
“I barely recognized her. I couldn’t believe it was her,” said Manning, who cried as he spoke.
Manning, who works at a nearby tavern, heard the blast from his home four miles away. Thinking of his neighbor, he drove to the scene, where the store had been reduced to a heap of debris and twisted metal, with a sign still showing the price of gasoline.
Manning recalled kidding around with his neighbor, whom he declined to identify. “I joke around with those people every day,” he said. “They’re the best people.”
At least five others were seriously hurt in the blast, which blew candy and hot dog wrappers into trees 200 to 300 yards from the store. The explosion was felt at least a mile away at a store selling skiing gear.
“I thought we got struck by lightning. The whole building shook. The power went off,” said Ben Monast, manager of the Ski Shop.
Authorities said the explosion happened just as a fire truck was pulling into the station in response to a reported gas leak. The fatalities included a paramedic and a retired firefighter who was also a building inspector.
State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis said an above-ground tank capable of holding 500 pounds of propane was being worked on at the time of the blast. The gas apparently drifted into the business and exploded.
“It is our initial thought that the fumes entered into the building and had to have an ignition point,” Lewis said.
The propane tank and the store’s underground gasoline tanks did not explode, he said.
“Imagine putting off an explosion in your home and when you walked up to your home, the only thing you have left is toothpicks,” Lewis said.
Keli Akers said she was driving to her house about a mile from the gas station Tuesday when she began to smell propane. When she got home, she saw debris from the store falling into her yard.
Akers said her mother “felt a huge jolt” at the time of the blast.
Akers tried to drive to the scene, but she could get no further than a nearby elementary school because roads were closed. The school was also damaged.
“I know people there,” she said. “But it’s not just the people who work there. Everyone goes there. Anyone could have been there.”
Gov. Joe Manchin met privately with victims’ families at the Ghent Volunteer Fire Department. The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it was sending a team to assess the site. The board makes safety recommendations to industry, labor groups and regulatory agencies.
The victims’ names were not immediately released.
The gas station was about 70 miles southeast of Charleston.
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