Explosion, Fire Destroy Romeoville Townhomes

(CBS) — Two gas company workers were injured and more than 20 people were left homeless Tuesday night when an explosion and fire destroyed a townhouse building in southwest suburban Romeoville.

The explosion happened around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at a five-unit townhome structure at Wespark Boulevard and Strawflower Court.

The explosion started a massive fire, which sent flames shooting high in the air. At least two units in the building were destroyed. Two other units were damaged.

“I was just playing my video game, and I just saw bright orange everywhere. It just knocked me out of bed, and I was just screaming, and I didn’t know what happened. I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” neighbor Tyler Brown said.

He and his father live on the other end of the building, just a few doors down.

“I thought it was about to tip over,” Tyler said. “I was trying to run. I fell down the stairs.”

Tyler’s mom, Tiffany Bates, was in the car, approaching their home, when she heard the explosion.

“It was just unreal. I just fell to my knees. I prayed. It was just terrible,” Bates said.

The explosion apparently was caused by a gas leak that had been reported earlier Tuesday.

Nicor officials and Romeoville authorities said a third party, believed to be a cable company, was in the area earlier in the day, and might have damaged a gas line.

“We did have a crew respond to this location earlier in the day, after receiving a report of damage to a 2-inch natural gas facility,” Nicor spokesman Joe Del Real said. “There was damage by a third party.”

Two Nicor workers were injured in the explosion, one of them seriously. Nicor said they had been repairing a leak at the building earlier in the afternoon, and when they returned, something went wrong.

Several nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution after the explosion.

“I’m still traumatized about the whole thing, because my whole house shook,” Mildred Attakora said.

One neighbor showed a newspaper report from 1999, when there was another explosion at the very same building.

“As soon as it blew, I knew exactly what happened. I’d been smelling gas all day. I’m working from home. I had talked to the guys that were digging. They were installing fiber optic. I told them, ‘Hey, we did in this in ’99, let’s not do it again,’” Jim Moviel said. “They assured me that they knew what they were doing and that this would not happen again, and it didn’t work out that way.”

Mark Morawski lived through the 1999 explosion, and still remembers it clearly.

“My window got blown in, knocked me off my couch onto the floor,” he said.

Romeoville Police Chief Mark Turvey said the 1999 explosion was “substantially worse” than Tuesday’s, as it leveled several townhome buildings in the same subdivision.

Turvey said he’s not sure if the latest explosion was a coincidence, or if there is an underlying problem at the building.

No residents were injured, but the Red Cross said it was providing assistance to more than 20 people who were displaced by the explosion and fire.

Nicor said it’s cooperating with police on an investigation of the blast.

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