Propane leak caused blast that leveled house at Shore

Lower Township firefighters at the scene of an explosion that leveled a single-family home Thursday. A couple inside the home remain in critical condition with serious burns.
Lower Township firefighters at the scene of an explosion that leveled a single-family home Thursday. A couple inside the home remain in critical condition with serious burns. (DALE GERHARD / Atlantic City Press)
Posted: November 10, 2013

A powerful explosion that leveled a home in Cape May County and left a couple seriously injured was caused by a propane leak, authorities said Friday.

Investigators found the leak in a line for a propane tank on the property on the 200 block of East Atlantic Avenue in the Villas section of Lower Township, said Police Chief Bill Mastriana.

"They're not sure about what could have caused the leak," he said. Investigators want to take a closer look at recent renovations at the one-story home, he said.

The couple, Evelyn and James McCarty, both 67, remained in critical condition Friday in the burn unit at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, where they were taken by airlift.

The explosion Thursday afternoon spewed debris onto the street and could be felt several miles away at the police station. It sent neighbors scurrying from their homes.

"The house was down when I got there," Mastriana said. "It was completely leveled."

Several neighbors and an off-duty police officer rushed to the burning home, where the roof had already collapsed, Mastriana said. Only a wall remained standing amid the ensuing two-alarm fire, he said.

They heard screams from Evelyn McCarty, grabbed her by an arm, and pulled her from the debris, the chief said. They then rescued her husband, who was in the shower when the blast occurred, he said.

"These people are the real heroes," Mayor Michael Beck said of the rescuers.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the flames and evacuated the area Thursday evening for about an hour as a precaution.

Investigators from state, federal, and local agencies returned to the scene Friday, sorting through the rubble and the debris field to determine whether the explosion was due to accidental, natural, or criminal causes.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent fire and explosives experts as well as a K-9 unit to assist, along with the Cape May County Fire Marshal's Office and local authorities.

The house was equipped with propane and natural gas, Mastriana said. The gas lines were recently installed on the street, but authorities ruled that out as a possible cause.

The couple retired to Villas several years ago from the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, and have an extended network of family and friends. Relatives declined to comment Friday.

Their granddaughter Ashley McCarty posted on her Facebook page: "Thank you all for your prayers they worked! My nan and pop are ok. It's a miracle they are alive."


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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