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Heater work inside house at time of blast; developer has 'no comment'

Eight people, including two children, were injured this morning after an apparent gas explosion caused a South Philadelphia rowhome undergoing extensive renovation to collapse.

Two other homes were damaged and as many as 25 people were evacuated on the 400 block of Daly Street, between 4th and 5th, where the collapse occurred.

Police said an explosion was reported in the tightly-packed Whitman neighborhood at 11:09 a.m. Rubble from the collapsed home spilled into the street.

The property is owned by a development corporation called SCK Investments LLC, based in Pennsylvania and incorporated in Delaware, according to public records. SCK Investments executive secretary, Steve Finney, said "no comment" when reached by phone and hung up. A message left for SCK President Cathy Finney-Hughes was not immediately returned. SCK Investments bought the property in March for $65,000, according to records with the city Office of Property Assessment.

Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Richey said that when emergency responders arrived in the minutes after the call, they found seven people injured and several houses damaged by the explosion. Initially, officials evacuated 22 houses adjacent to the mid-block collapse. Utility crews cut gas and power to houses surrounding the scene.

Six victims were taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in stable condition. One child was taken to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in stable condition, and a contractor performing the renovations was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in critical condition. The contractor, officials said, was working on a water heater.

Rebecca Swanson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Licenses and Inspections, said that renovation permits had been given for the house at 428 Daly St., where the explosion is believed to have originated, The incident remains under investigation, and Swanson added that L&I was working to gather more information about exactly what was going on with the property at the time of the blast.

The city's website shows four permits for the property. The permits — two for major renovations, one for a complete electrical rewiring and one for installing a furnace and duct work — were issued earlier this year.

Linda Lyons, 60, who lives on a block adjacent to the explosion and collapse, said she could feel the whole room shaking when the blow happened, and that the electrical lines outside her house began to spark and make a popping noise.

"I flew into the house," Lyons said. "I was scared to death."

She immediately called 9-1-1. Her son, Mike Lyons, 27, who was in the backyard at the time of the explosion said he felt a whoosh and saw smoke coming from at least one of the houses.

Around 1 p.m., the block of Daly remained cordoned off, and debris from the leveled houses littered the middle of the block.

Residents of nearby Wolf Street who had been evacuated were allowed back into their houses, while the rest of the evacuees were sent to the Taggart School not far from the scene. The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania was at the school, setting up supplies for those evacuated.

Scott Snelling, who lives about two blocks from where the explosion happened, said a neighbor smelled gas near their houses last week and contacted the gas company. Snelling said the gas was shut off for a few days.

Joseph Szymborski, who lives a block away from the incident site, says he ran to the home and helped victims escape from their front window.

"Just making sure everyone's out, everyone's safe," he said. "That's all I was thinking."

The people in the home were covered in soot from the debris, he said.

Leonard Gilbert, who lives a few blocks away, called the incident "devastating" and said he went to the site after be heard about the incident on a police scanner.

Gilbert said it was worrisome that the collapse might have been caused by a gas explosion.

"Natural gas is nothing to play with," he said, adding that he was concerned the gas lines under is own basement "could take out an entire city block."


Check back for details as they develop.

Staff writer Brian X. McCrone contributed to this report.