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Funds started for elderly victim of St. Paul house explosion

Firefighters work at the scene of a house explosion in the 600 block of Payne Avenue in St. Paul on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. (Michael Achterling / Pioneer Press)

ST. PAUL -- A woman who has never met the victim set up an online fundraising account and The St. Paul Fire Foundation also said Sunday, Nov. 25, it will accept donations after a house exploded on Payne Avenue here Friday morning, Nov. 23.

John Lundahl, 80, was critically injured in the blast, which is believed to have been caused by a gas leak. The explosion decimated his home, sent up a fireball that was seen for miles and shattered windows in surrounding homes and businesses in the Railroad Island neighborhood. Lundahl remains hospitalized in critical condition at Regions Hospital, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

The GoFundMe account will go directly to Lundahl’s expenses. It was set up by Kayla Olmshenkset, a woman who has never met Lundahl but wanted to help.

She reached out to Lundahl’s brother, Dick Lundahl, and set up the account after several people online said they wished they had a way to help.

“This morning the unthinkable happened to John Lundahl, an elderly man from St. Paul, Minnesota,” Olmshenkset wrote on the GoFundMe page. “His home exploded, but he miraculously survived. He is currently in critical condition at Regions hospital. When he gets out he will need to start from scratch as everything was destroyed. This has to be especially hard during the holidays, and the cold winter months. Anything raised will go directly towards John so he can focus on getting better. I will contact an attorney Monday to ensure all money raised goes directly to John and anything he may need to start over or for medical purposes.”

Jeanie Lundahl, Dick Lundahl’s wife, said her brother-in-law is going to be devastated when he realizes he lost his house, which was his “baby.” She said she is incredibly grateful for Olmshenkset’s efforts.

“I thank her from the bottom of my heart,” she said Sunday. “I would never know how to do something like that.”

When she heard about the fire foundation’s efforts, Jeanie Lundahl said, “How wonderful! That poor guy has nothing. Nothing now. I tell you when and if he survives and finds out he doesn’t have that house … oh, that house was his castle. I just worry about when he finds out.”

The money donated to the St. Paul Fire Foundation fund will go directly to help the families and businesses impacted by the explosion of the house on Payne Avenue, the organization announced in a press release Sunday night.

Jeanie Lundahl said she and her husband found out about the explosion while they were in San Diego.

“My husband calls Johnny every day because Johnny lives alone and because he’s had two heart attacks and a stroke. And every day Johnny would answer the phone and say, ‘I’m here. I’m alive,’ ” Jeanie Lundahl said.

Before they could call last Friday, their son called and asked the address of the house they’d been married in because it was on Payne Avenue and a home had exploded there. Their son was worried it had been their former home.

When the son told them the address of the house that had exploded, at first the Lundahls didn’t know it was John’s house. But then their granddaughter called her father on the other line and said, “It’s Uncle John’s house.”

Almost immediately they were told that John Lundahl had survived the blast.

“That’s amazing. But when I saw it on the news, I didn’t know how he could have survived that. I still don’t,” Jeanie Lundahl said.

John Lundahl owned the house for 15 years and spent much of that time fixing it up.

“He’s single, so that was his baby,” Jeanie Lundahl said. “That guy was such a hard worker. He spent so much time working on the backyard. He had dirt hauled in so he could fix it up and sit out there and feed the squirrels and birds.”

She said she is sad realizing how hard it’s going to be for John Lundahl to realize his home is gone.

“As a matter of fact, he said to us not too long ago, ‘When I die’ (although he felt like he’d live to 110) he said he wanted to know who would take his house? Who would move in there and live there? He loved that house.”

John Lundahl is a former Marine who spent much of his life caring for his mother, his sister-in-law said. The money people are donating is going to be very useful, Jeanie Lundahl said, noting that her brother-in-law lived on his social security check.

As of Sunday night, more than $2,200 had been donated to the GoFundMe account.

Along with John Lundahl, a cat and dog also survived the blast.

The St. Paul Fire Foundation will accept contributions through their website and “donate 100% of the proceeds to families and businesses to help them recover from the personal and property loss resulting from the explosion,” the nonprofit group announced in a press release Sunday night.

“Our hearts are with those who were impacted by Friday’s incident,” said Mayor Melvin Carter. “I am grateful for the work of our first responders, and for the support coming from our community to ensure these families and businesses can move forward.”

“I’ve been touched by the outpouring of people asking how they can help Railroad Island neighbors and businesses impacted by Friday’s devastating explosion,” said Council President Amy Brendmoen.

“It is a wonderful community whose first reaction to a catastrophe is ‘How can we help?’ ” said council member Jane Prince. “Thanks to all of our neighbors who continue to reach out to help those in need.”

“As first responders, we have a responsibility to not only help those in emergency situations but to do what we can to offer care and support for our community,” said St. Paul Fire Chief Butch Inks. “I am grateful that we have the opportunity to step forward and make a difference in this time of need.”

Several people posted videos and photographs of the explosion and its aftermath on social media. A security camera captured the explosion from down the road.

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