Unsafe structure delays investigators in examination of house explosion

06/05/2014 10:54 PM

06/05/2014 10:54 PM

When Bryan Lott heard an explosion three houses down from his, he said it sounded like a bomb had gone off.

“It shook my house,” said Lott, who was one of the first to arrive at the house explosion and fire Wednesday night in south Kansas City. “I ran to the driveway and saw that the explosion had blown half of the house open. I could see clear into the basement.”

It will take at least until Friday before federal and local investigators are able to comb through the remains of a south Kansas City residence in the 9100 block of Tennessee Avenue damaged by an explosion that left two people with critical injuries.

The structure is unsafe for investigators to go inside, said John Ham, a spokesman with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“There is a portion of the roof that we need to mitigate before it is safe enough for our boys to get in there and start doing a scene investigation,” Ham said. “We need heavy equipment to get in there and do that.”

The cause of the blast has not been determined, and it is unknown how long it will take crews to complete their investigation, Ham said.

Missouri Gas Energy has determined that natural gas did not cause the explosion, he said.

“Absolutely every possibility is on the table at this point in the investigation,” Ham said.

The adult victims transported to hospitals were 51 and 52 and were listed in critical condition with “missing limbs,” authorities said. In addition, two women and two children were treated for their injuries.

Wiley Mitchell, 52, was identified by neighbors as one of the adult victims.

Mitchell was in critical condition Thursday afternoon, said Stacie Madigan, a Research Medical Center spokeswoman.

Two women ran out of the house with two young children, Lott said.

“I saw that one of the neighbors was already in the basement, digging through the rubble,” Lott said. “He yelled that he had found someone, and that’s when I saw the gentleman raise his arm. His hand didn’t have any fingers on it.”

Lott said he helped rescue Mitchell. “We finally got him on a tarp and pulled him out,” he said.

Melinda Arthur, Lott’s wife, said she was in the front yard of the house while her husband was helping to pull Mitchell out.

“You could hear pops going off inside the house for a good five minutes after the first explosion,” Arthur said. “The first one sounded like a stick of dynamite going off.”

Jerome Carter, another neighbor, said he thought one of Mitchell’s friends was also seriously injured in the explosion.

“To see Wiley laying there like that was a shock,” Carter said.

The explosion occurred about 6:45 p.m., and the initial 911 call came in at 6:57 p.m., said Battalion Chief James Garrett, a spokesman for the Kansas City Fire Department. It took fire crews about 15 minutes to declare the scene under control. Two of the injured were lying in the driveway when firefighters arrived.

“The explosion took place, and several residents, as opposed to calling 911, they went in and immediately tried to help them,” he said. “Which is OK, but we prefer you call 911. That way, you will get medical help to those patients as quickly as possible.”

But Ernie McClellan, who lives in the house across the street from the explosion, said four or five people were calling 911 after the explosion happened.

“By the time the authorities got here, we had drug him to the driveway,” McClellan said.

To reach Caroline Bauman, call 816-234-4449 or send email to cbauman@kcstar.com.

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

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