WAYNE (WWJ) – An investigation into the deadly explosion at Frank’s Furniture store in Wayne was expected to get underway Thursday.

At a mid-morning news conference, Consumers Energy spokeswoman Debra Dodd said investigators found some damage to a two-inch gas line near the store on Wayne Road.

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Consumers Energy crews were investigating a possible gas leak in the area, about two blocks away, when the explosion occurred.   A second gas leak was found Wednesday afternoon near the store.

A temporary repair to the gas line was made overnight and a permanent fix is expected to be made later Thursday.

Consumers Energy crews will be going into businesses and homes to make sure the area is safe, however Dodd said the utility company believes the area is safe.

Nine homeowners who were kept out of their homes overnight will be allowed to go back home, however those people are asked to go to the Wayne Fire Department on Wayne Road and get an escort back to their homes.

After more than 12 hours of searching, crews on Wednesday night recovered the bodies of a salesman and clerical worker who were killed in the natural gas explosion at Frank’s Furniture store on Wayne Road north of Michigan Avenue.   Wayne City Manager John Zech identified the salesman as 64-year-old James Zell of Westland.  The other woman hasn’t been identified, but is from Westland, according to Zech.

The explosion also left two people, including the owner of the store, Paul Franks, hospitalized.  A person driving by the store also was hurt.  A spokeswoman at the University of Michigan Medical Center said Thursday morning that Franks remains in critical condition in the burn unit.

Franks’ family issued a statement through the hospital expressing appreciation for the support and concern of the community.

“We are focused on his care and treatment at this time and we ask that you respect our privacy. Our concern extends to all others affected by today’s tragedy,” the statement said.

The driver passing by the store when the explosion happened was taken to Oakwood Annapolis hospital.  The manager of the emergency room says the person was not in the building, but was driving by at the time of the explosion.  He had glass embedded in his neck and face.

Over the 12 hours, firefighters were conducting a hand-to-hand search as rescuers are being careful for fear of further collapse.  Specialized rescue teams from Wayne, Oakland and Washtenaw counties were on site.

Wayne Road will remain closed from Michigan Avenue to Glenwood.  The road could reopen Thursday afternoon if the debris is cleared from the road.

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(credit: cbsnews.com)

Aerial Video of Michigan Furniture Store Explosion from CBS News

The explosion happened at 9 o’clock Thursday morning around the time the store opened for the day.

Wayne Mayor Al Haidous called it a “sad day.”

A person working in a hardware store next door described it as a “large explosion” and said debris flew into the store where she worked.

People working about a quarter mile away say they felt the blast.  Jim Monroe, a nearby business owner said, “I was a mile away coming out of a coffee shop and I heard a big explosion. I thought somebody had a car accident behind me …”

Monroe continues to describe the scene saying, “I’m standing across the street from Frank’s Furniture Store. My business is about two doors across the street and down. And all of our windows in our buildings are broken for about two blocks.”

Jennifer Geetze, manager of nearby brake shop, Henry’s Service Center described the explosion. “… We felt the whole building shake. I thought something happened inside our building. I thought a truck fell off of a hoist or something. I ran back there — ran outside and saw that Frank’s had exploded and there was debris all the way into the parking lot by the coffee shop and the Dairy Queen.”

Geetze’s husband and a couple of her employees helped to free a man trapped in debris saying, “… they saw a truck from one of the employees from Franks was parked near the building, and started digging for him and could hear him asking for help and he was pinned under some debris. They helped free him just as the fire was starting to engulf him.”

The building has been completely devasted according to witnesses. Geetze said, “It doesn’t look like a building at all. It’s absolutely gone.  There’s really nothing left of it other than the shell of the buildings next to it.”

Geetze said the explosion felt like an earthquake and continued to describe the scene saying, “Our entire building shook. The windows across the street from Frank’s are blown out and broken. Luckily we don’t have any damage to our building. And I know some of the people that were down at the Dunkin Donuts even further down the road said that they lost power for a while.”

Stay tuned to WWJ Newsradio 950 for the latest developments.

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