Explosion levels home in Limestone Township

PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette Smoke billows several hundred feet into the sky after an explosion rocked Middle Road in Oval, destroying one home and shaking several others just before 6 p.m. Thursday. Debris from the blast covers the entire street, above. Some the debris landed in surrounding trees.

OVAL — A man and a woman were seriously injured in an huge explosion that leveled their home and shook several neighboring houses on Middle Road just before 6 p.m. Thursday.

“It was just a big bang. I ran out to our sun porch and saw that the house was gone,” said Harriet Luhta, who lives next door with her husband Ray.

The names of the couple who lived in the destroyed home were not available, but their identities might be released to the media later today.

The woman was on her back porch and the man was supposedly getting ready to take a shower when the explosion at 430 Middle Road occurred, neighbors told a reporter.

“The woman was blown out of the house,” neighbor John Brown, a retiree from Norfolk Southern Railroad, said. She landed about 10 to 15 away from the property.

“Four or five men, (believed to be

neighbors) suddenly came running in all directions” to see what they could do to help, Brown said.

The male victim was heard yelling for help as he was trapped under a pile of debris.

“They had to lift the debris up a bit in order to get his leg out. There was a propane tank at the back of the house, and we were all afraid that that could go at any minute,” Brown said.

“As soon as I stepped off my back porch, all I saw was a pile of rubble,” Brown said in describing the scene.

“There was a good bit of smoke at the front of the house, but no fire at first. Suddenly, as the guys were working to get the man loose from the debris, flames erupted,” Brown said.

The injured man was moved away from the fire as soon as he was freed.

Another neighbor helped the injured woman get out of harms way as smoke billowed from the ruins.

The couple’s front door and front windows landed in neighbor’s front lawn across the street. Some debris landed in nearby trees.

“It was extremely loud. I never before heard anything like it “ Luhta, a retiree from the former Commonweath Bank, said in describing the explosion that blew out windows to the couple’s garage and sunroom.

“Part of the ceiling in our garage came down, and a section of wall in the garage also blew out,” she added. Despite the damage, the couple could return to their home for the night.

The explosion was so powerful that it blew open the doors to the Oval General Store, about 100 yards away, according to Tom Wrench, who was in the store at the time.

“Everything rattled in the store. I actually thought something hit the building,” he said.

“It was an explosion like you’ve never heard before,” Wrench, a resident of the Nippenose Valley, said. He quickly made his way to the scene. He was one of several people to call 911.

“It’s just unbelievable destruction and total helplessness. You didn’t know what to do. There was gas, there were flames, there was smoke. It was shocking,” Wrench said.

“It was the loudest explosion you could ever imagine,” he added.

Nippenose Valley Fire Chief Dean Miller, who directed operations at the scene, confirmed an injured man and a woman were taken in ambulances to the UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport Regional Medical Center.

“Both patients were in the rear yard when firefighters arrived,” Miller told a reporter as smoke continue to rise several hundred feet into the air.

“Both were conscious, alert and responsive. The man sustained broke limbs and burns, but I don’t know the extent of those injuries,” he said.

Her termed the man’s injures as “very serious,” and the woman’s injuries as “moderate.”

Cpl. Nicholas Loffredo, a state police fire marshal, arrived on the scene as firefighters continued to fight the fire.

Miller said the cause of explosion remained under investigation.

“There is a 500-gallon propane tank out back. We received reports that a propane furnace was installed in the structure, but based on information from family members, it was believed that the couple was not yet using it,” Miller said.

Investigators are trying to determine if the propane tank played any role in causing the explosion, he said.

“This was dispatched as a gas explosion,” Miller added.

Several homes in the immediate area sustained minor damage, but none of the residents were forced to find alternate housing, he said.

“Windows were blown out, doors blown in, garage doors knocked off their tracks,” Miller said in describing some of the damage.

In addition to Nippenose Valley, volunteer firefighters from Antes Fort, Jersey Shore and Nisbet responded to the fire, which was brought under control about 8 p.m.