YARMOUTH — A Yarmouth man was killed and at least a dozen of his neighbors were displaced by an explosion Tuesday that destroyed or damaged homes, showered the neighborhood with debris and jolted buildings for miles around.
Police and fire officials said the blast, believed to be a propane explosion, occurred about 6:17 a.m. and destroyed the condominium unit at 50 Gables Drive, where Peter Corey lived.
Officers confirmed that Corey’s body was found in his home. Corey, 66, lived alone and was described by neighbors as severely disabled.
State police spokesman Steve McCausland said the blast was being investigated by the state Fire Marshal’s Office, and was likely caused by a propane leak in one of the units.
The explosion leveled 50 Gables Drive and destroyed part of the unit at 52 Gables Drive. Several other units in the complex on the cul-de-sac off North Road were damaged. The 14 condo units are broken up into seven separate duplexes.
The blast sent insulation and other debris high into the air. Twenty minutes afterward, it still looked like it was snowing, said Police Chief Michael Morrill.
Police said that despite the massive explosion, there was no fire.
Amory Houghton was in his garage, cleaning, when the adjacent building exploded. The force of the blast knocked debris onto him from his attic, he said.
“I think I’m lucky I didn’t have my hearing aids on,” he said. “I could see immediately where the major impact was. I looked at No. 50 — it took it down to the foundation. It was very apparent it was an explosion from propane.”
Robert and Rosemary MacKay, who live at 52 Gables Drive, an attached unit, and Mary Hallsey, who lives in a nearby building, were treated for minor injuries, McCausland said.
Houghton, who serves on the board of directors for the condominium association, said most of the residents are senior citizens.
Neighbors said Corey’s sister-in-law, who lives in Falmouth, brought him food and checked on him daily. They said Corey largely kept to himself and they did not have much interaction with him.
Houghton’s wife, Joan, said she was surprised that Corey lived on his own, given his disabilities, but his family said he liked to be by himself, rather than in a group home or assisted living.
Asked how much gas would have to accumulate to cause such a huge explosion, Sgt. Ken Grimes of the Fire Marshal’s Office said it depended on the size of the room, the type of leak and how long the gas had been leaking.
A Maingas truck was on the scene after the explosion. A company employee referred questions to Mark Wienberg, a vice president of New Jersey-based Suburban Propane, the parent company of Maingas.
“We know the authorities will be doing a full investigation and we intend to fully support and assist them,” Wienberg said. He would not comment further, saying, “We’re still researching all of this.”
Jeff Martin of Foreside Real Estate Management, which manages the complex, said Maingas fills the shared propane tanks connected to the homes. Maingas does not deal with problems or equipment in the homes, Martin said. Residents are responsible for choosing their own providers to service the equipment.
Several propane tanks serve the 14 units on Gables Drive. The tank that fed into the building that exploded is four units away and was not damaged by the blast.
Martin said he thought that any leaking gas must have been inside the condominium.
He said stoves, water heaters and, in some units, fireplaces use propane. He was not sure if the units where the explosion occurred had fireplaces. Yarmouth does not have natural gas service.
Propane is heavier than air, so a leak can cause a dangerous accumulation in low spots in enclosed spaces. In February, a propane explosion in an apartment in Bath killed a 64-year-old woman.
After the blast Tuesday morning, firefighters and police took residents to the North Road fire station, about 700 feet away. Windows in the station were knocked out by the blast’s shock wave. Deputy Fire Chief Rick Kindlen, who was in the station, was knocked off his feet, said Fire Chief Michael Robitaille.
Joan Houghton said she might not be able to check on her home or gather belongings for weeks. She said she will stay with family members and friends for the six months it could take to rebuild her home.
She said she was still in bed when the unit next door exploded.
“My bed went up in the air,” she said. “I couldn’t even walk in the kitchen” because chunks of the ceiling had fallen onto the floor.
When she saw her husband come through the door uninjured, she felt blessed.
“I thank God, he was so good to us,” she said. “It just makes you realize what those people with the tornadoes went through.
“Those are just things,” she said, gesturing to her severely damaged home.
A structural engineer has been hired to check each of the buildings to determine which ones are safe for residents to enter to gather belongings, said Morrill, the police chief.
Anita Anderson, who lives on Balsam Lane, behind the North Gables condo unit that exploded, said her husband was outside getting the newspaper when the deafening blast shook their house.
“It was like a bomb went off,” she said. “The whole front of the house, all the windows, were blown out. All the mirrors in the bathrooms flew into the hallways.”
Anderson said she spent the morning cleaning up broken glasses, dishes, picture frames and window panes while her husband went to the doctor to get tested for possible hearing loss. Neither one was seriously injured.
An emergency cleanup crew boarded up the windows and assessed the home’s structural damage, including walls that separated from ceilings, door frames that buckled and warped, and a crumpled garage door.
“The cabinets all opened up because the house shook so bad,” Anderson said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Charlotte Agell said her parents live in the unit across the cul-de-sac from the one that exploded. They were uninjured but in shock and had been taken to the North Road fire station.
She said her mother was in bed when the explosion happened, damaging their unit.
“A painting fell on her head, but she is OK,” said Agell, who was taking care of her parents’ springer spaniel, Hugo.
Tuesday was a town election day for Yarmouth residents, who went to the polls to vote on Town Council and school board members, the town budget and a library improvement bond. Because the town’s usual polling place is close to the location of the explosion, voting was moved to Town Hall.
“Everybody is stunned,” said Steve Woods, chairman of the Town Council, who surveyed the damage and talked to neighbors. “This is something that will take a while for Yarmouth to move on from.”
Staff Writer Tux Turkel contributed to this report.