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'Like a bomb going off,' explosion levels St. Paul home, injuring one

St. Paul firefighters were at the scene of a house explosion in the 600 block of Payne Avenue on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. Sarah Horner / Pioneer Press1 / 3
Firefighters work at the scene of a house explosion in the 600 block of Payne Avenue in St. Paul on Friday, Nov. 23. Michael Achterling / St. Paul Pioneer Press 2 / 3
Firefighters work at a house explosion in the 600 block of Payne Avenue, where debris was blown into streets and tress in St. Paul on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. Courtesy of St. Paul police 3 / 3

ST. PAUL - A home exploded in St. Paul’s Payne-Phalen neighborhood Friday morning, Nov. 23, sending a fireball into the sky that was reportedly visible from miles away.

Some 40 firefighters responded to the scene on the 600 block of Payne Avenue at about 8:30 a.m. One man who was inside the home was pulled from the wreckage and taken by ambulance to Regions Hospital with injuries.

The victim, in his mid 60s, was talking to first responders and appeared to have burns on his hands, according to St. Paul Deputy Fire Chief Dave Berger. The man’s current condition was not immediately available Friday afternoon.

A dog and cat were also found alive amid the wreckage.

While the cause of the blaze remains under investigation, fire officials suspect a gas explosion is to blame, Berger said.

Xcel Energy workers were on scene shortly afterward and had gas and electric utilities shut down within a half hour, Berger added. Gas had to be shut off on the entire block as firefighters responded.

Debris from the leveled home was stuck in trees and strewn about the intersection Friday morning. Windows from several nearby properties and cars were shattered by the force of the explosion.

A handful of nearby houses and properties sustained severe damage, Berger noted, leaving 12 area residents displaced.

In addition to the home destroyed, two others north of it as well as three businesses to the south have all been condemned until firefighters can evaluate the properties’ structural stability.

Red Cross workers were on scene Friday afternoon helping to secure temporary housing for those affected, Berger said.

Jon Laboda is among those looking for a new place to stay. He lives directly behind the house that was decimated in the explosion and said he’d just left shortly before the explosion.

He stood staring at a giant hole left behind in his home Friday morning, still reeling from the shock of what happened.

“I’m shook up,” he said.

Residents as far away as Roseville and north of Lake Phalen heard and felt the explosion, Berger said.

Ali Hussein, who lives across the street in an apartment building, said he woke up to a thundering “BOOM” Friday morning.

“It sounded like a bomb going off,” Hussein said.

Erikka Delgado was at her grandma’s house about five blocks away when she heard it.

“It was a big ol’ boom, like from a war zone or something,” the 21-year-old said, adding that the explosion caused their home to shake.

She and her grandma were among those who gathered at the scene afterward. Crowds watched as firefighters continued to try and douse flames shooting from a gas line around 10 a.m. Friday.

Myk’schel Moore, lives about a block away off Edgerton Street, in a duplex. She sleeps on the second floor with her bedroom window facing the scene. The sound made her jump, she said.

“My first reaction was to look out the window and I saw the big fireball in the sky, and I was like, damn, that’s an explosion,” Moore said. “Like a volcano explosion, you know how like it comes up and explodes out, that’s what it looked like.”

She was at the scene when police arrived.

Jamell Jones, 14, and Isaiah Brown, 11, said they know the man who lives in the house. They often see him outside fixing or selling things as they walk to the nearby Quick Stop Market, they said.

Brown once bought a hoverboard from him, he said.

Jones was in his house about a half a block away when the noise woke him.

“I ran outside and seen the house was gone and stuff flying around in the air,” he said.

An occupant of a nearby business also was taken by ambulance to a hospital following the explosion, but the person appeared to be suffering from anxiety-related impacts rather than physical injuries, Berger noted.

A public works crew was expected to arrive sometime Friday afternoon to haul away debris and clear the streets.