ROYAL OAK (WWJ) - Federal authorities have joined the investigating into the cause of an explosion that leveled a Royal Oak home, killing a man and damaging other houses and businesses in the neighborhood.
Speaking live on WWJ Newsradio 950 Thursday morning, Consumers Energy spokesperson Debra Dodd said crews had been working in recent days on Cooper Street near where the blast happened around 5 p.m. Wednesday, in the area of 13 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue.
“They were doing part of a typical civic improvement project. They were replacing a gas main on that street and had been out there for several days. Residents had received letters, you know, notifying them of the work in advance,” she said.
It wasn’t known whether the recent work was related to the blast. In fact, Dodd said it could be quite some time before a cause of the explosion is determined.
“It could take months or longer, frankly. There’s a lot of different parts to the investigation and typically in a case like this, it will take months to complete,” she said.
Dodd said among the things investigators will look into are whether the trademark “rotten egg” smell of natural gas was present, and whether anyone called 911 before the blast.
“We’re going to be collecting evidence at the scene such as the gas meter to the home that was most heavily damaged, perhaps sections of pipe and the gas appliances in the home. What we do is we’ll document where they are with photos and conditions and then they’re carefully packaged up and shipped to a lab for further analysis,” she said.
Dodd said federal agencies have joined the investigation.
“We’re working with the Michigan Public Service Commission, police and fire departments, and we’re now also working with the National Transportation Safety Board, which is in charge of pipeline safety,” she said.
Wednesday’s explosion was heard several miles away. Burning and smoking wood planks from the home were scattered nearby as firefighters rushed to put out the flames. More than two dozen homes were damaged in the immediate area of the blast. Several blocks away, some businesses on Woodward Avenue were damaged, too.
The Oakland County Medical Examiner said a 58-year-old man was killed in the explosion. The man, whose name is being withheld until his family is notified, is believed to be the occupant of the house that exploded.
WWJ’s Laura Bonnell spoke with Wendy Harris, who used to live door next to victim.
They were both single parents, doing the best they could raising their kids. She said he was very close to his three grown daughters, and was a terrific guy.
“The biggest tragedy is that he worked hard all of his life and retired to do a lot of things that he had put off doing — you know, traveling, things like that,” Harris said. “But he really enjoyed life. He had a very, very outgoing personality, very uplifting. And, like I said, [he was] always there to help.”
Harris said he loved to play golf worked in the auto industry and is being remembered fondly by his former coworkers.
Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison, who arrive at the scene for the first time on Thursday, said he wasn’t prepared for the heart-wrenching devastation.
“We’ve never seen anything like this. I even checked with our fire marshal and they’ve never seen anything like this. One of the guys said the only comparison was that furniture store explosion they had Downriver here a number of years ago. I mean, there is nothing left of this house. It’s gone,” he said.
Ellison said he’s satisfied with the response by Consumers Energy, adding that the city will help the dozens of displaced residents the best they can.