8 hurt in Philadelphia explosion, building collapse

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PHILADELPHIA — A suspected gas explosion ripped through a South Philadelphia rowhouse under renovation Monday morning, leveling the building, seriously damaging two adjoining homes and injuring at least eight people, officials said.

One of the victims — a workman suffering burns — was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in critical condition following the blast and collapse at 428 Daly Street in the Whitman neighborhood, authorities said.

Six other people were taken to Jefferson University Hospital, and a child was taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, officials said. There is no word yet on their conditions.

Deputy Fire Chief Robert Coyne said 428 Daly was under renovation at the time at the collapse.

Property records show permits were issued for that address in April for a major renovation, including the installation of a furnace and an air-conditioning system. The house was bought in March by SCK Investments, LLC, according to the deed.

Firefighters evacuated 25 people who lived in 22 houses on the block and relocated them temporarily to the nearby Taggert School.

The force of the blast blew out the front of the middle home of three rowhouses, burying a parked car under the crushing weight of bricks and lumber.

Judy Delisi, who lives on the block, said she smelled gas about 11:25 a.m. and went down to her basement to check. About five minutes later, she was sitting down when there was "just a big kaboom."

"It shook," Delisi said. "You knew something fell."

She ran outside to find a debris cloud "coming down the street."

Residents said the explosion and collapse reminded them of an earthquake and reported that firefighters arrived quickly. A fire house is nearby at 4TH and Snyder streets.

Victor Masella, who owns Michael's Deli and Grocery on nearby Wolf Street, was startled by the rumbling.

"The whole foundation shook," said Masella whose store shares an alleyway with the damaged homes.

Masella said the collapse took down power lines in the alleyway, sending fire and sparks in the air.

Nearly 50 residents from the block crowded into the deli in a state of shock and confusion. He said no one in the store was injured, but he saw emergency responders treating a man covered in burns.

Quang Lac said the door to his South View Pizza at 367 Durfor Street opened and then slammed shut when the blast rocked the neighborhood.

Lac said he thought it was a bomb. Outside, though, he decided it was fire.

"It smells like burning," Lac said, "but I don't see any smoke."

It was only later that he learned that a suspected gas explosion caused what seemed like a scene out a disaster movie.