BATH, Maine (AP) — A powerful explosion turned a two-family house into rubble Tuesday, killing a woman, hurting four others and showering the neighborhood with debris, some of which landed a quarter-mile away.
Fire investigators zeroed in on the propane heating system, seeking to determine if a gas leak caused the single-story brick duplex to blow up and catch fire shortly after 5 a.m., said Sgt. Ken Grimes of the state fire marshal's office.
The blast flattened the building, awakened neighbors and scattered debris around the neighborhood, with lumber, insulation, shingles, clothing and other items landing in trees and on neighbors' cars and roofs. Windows were blown out of some homes, and some residents fled in their pajamas to get away from the fire.
"I heard the boom and looked out the window. There was no house and debris falling everywhere, and a fire," said Rashell Alfaisalawi, who lives less than 100 feet away and feared for her safety as debris came raining down.
Nearby, Lisa King said the blast knocked pictures off her walls and flung a door from the destroyed home into her building. "When I came outside, the duplex was gone," said King, who was not allowed to return to her home.
After the flames were doused, all that was left was a pile of lumber where the house once stood. Clothing, insulation, and a 6-foot-long 2-by-4 were stuck high in trees. Roof shingles and other debris littered the street.
A woman's body was recovered shortly before noon and taken to the state medical examiner's office for identification. A woman lived in one of the side-by-side units, but officials couldn't be certain that she was the victim.
A man who works at a McDonald's restaurant lived in the other unit and had left for work about 30 minutes before the blast, police said.
The duplex was in a sprawling development built during World War II to house shipyard workers, and propane is the heating source for all the units, said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Grimes said propane explosions have a specific blast pattern, and investigators were working to determine whether a propane leak was responsible. Propane is heavier than air and tends to settle, so it could have accumulated in the home's crawl space before the explosion, he said.
The blast shook the neighborhood.
Kenneth Hooper, the McDonald's worker, heard the explosion and returned to see the rubble of his home. He was overcome by emotion and was taken to a hospital for treatment, McCausland said. Three other people who suffered minor injuries were taken away in ambulances.
As for the woman who was killed, it'll take at least a day for the medical examiner to make positive identification, a spokesman said.
Bath, which has a population of about 8,500 residents, is located about 35 miles northeast of Portland and is home to Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works.
Associated Press writer Clarke Canfield in Portland contributed to this report.