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‘Complete devastation’: Man, woman killed in Crescent Township house explosion

CRESCENT TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A man and woman were killed in a house explosion in Crescent Township, Allegheny County Tuesday morning.

SEE PHOTOS FROM THE SCENE

Channel 11 received reports that homes several miles away were damaged and people from around the area said they felt the explosion. It happened just before 9 a.m. in the 1400 block of Riverview Road.

What we’ve learned about the victims

Neighbors are remembering the lives of David and Helen Mitchell. The couple was killed when their home exploded on Riverview Road in Crescent Township Tuesday morning.

David was 89 years old and Helen was 87.

Friends tell Channel 11 they were nice people and great neighbors.

“Devastated. You’ve known these people your whole lives since you were kids and knowing someone died this close in that manner is just devastating,” Billie Grey said. She lives in the neighborhood.

“They were a very loving couple. They would just do anything for anybody,” she said.

‘Complete devastation’

At least 50 people initially responded to the scene, which Crescent Township Fire Chief Andrew Tomer called “complete devastation.” There was fire burning throughout the foundation and the hillside near the home.

The fire chief said the explosion completely leveled the home. He described the explosion as “severe and extreme.”

Crews said they found natural gas from a private well and propane at the scene. Both were secured.

Officials said at least two other homes nearby were damaged in the blast.

“You can’t exactly quantify the initial emotional response, although we’re trained to go and handle business,” Tomer said. “So, we revert back to our highest level training, and we go and take care of what we need to take care of.”

Local business owner drove toward explosion to help

John Bundy owns the local family business, USA Pan. Their factory along McGovern Boulevard in Crescent Township is right across the street from Riverview Road, separated by a large hillside.

He said the blast was so strong that people inside the factory thought there was an explosion inside and started to run out.

“The force of that sound being that close, the best way to put it is it was like a sonic boom,” Bundy said. “It was a force.”

Bundy says when he went outside, he saw a mushroom cloud of thick, black, smoke over the hillside.

“We jumped in the truck and ran up there,” Bundy added. “There were two other gentlemen who came across the street who lived up there and it was just like a disaster area. It was what you’d picture - a huge bomb that blew everything to pieces. One hundred yards away, there were 2x4s splintered and plywood in the trees. The best way to say it - it was like pick up sticks.”

Bundy says the real hero in this was a volunteer who ran into the fire with a first aid pack, yelling for survivors and putting the lives of others before his own.

“I looked over and saw a woman with all of her windows blown out in the back of her house,” Bundy added. “She came out with a baby and sure enough, she was confused and that’s when she said, ‘My parents lived there.’ We went over to console her. It was a really hard thing to see.”

Investigation into blast

A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman sent Channel 11 the following statement Tuesday afternoon: “DEP’s oil and gas inspectors have arrived on scene to investigate and are coordinating with the Public Utility Commission, local and county emergency management agencies and the AC Fire Marshal’s office.”

A Columbia gas spokesperson says their crews responded and determined the property involved is not served by them.

The explosion is under investigation by the Allegheny County Fire Marshals Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

An official cause of the explosion has not yet been determined.

Private well on property

In an initial press conference, officials said there were propane tanks and a private gas well at the site of the explosion.

The private natural gas well appears to be at the center of the investigation into what caused the blast. What is not yet clear is who was aware the private well existed.

“The reality is reporting on, especially older wells, is pretty inadequate in Pennsylvania,” University of Pittsburgh professor Jeremy Weber said.

He said it is not known how many homes in the state have a private or home gas well.

Now the state is playing catch up. The DEP now requires operators of private natural gas wells to get a permit and submit annual reports. However, the DEP cannot enforce compliance if it does not know a well exists. It is also possible for homeowners to be unaware of an old private natural gas well on their property.

11 Investigates learned the state may have no record of the private well at the site of the explosion. PA’s Department of Environmental Protection’s oil and gas map shows no presence of a private gas well.

We’ve reached out to the DEP to ask if it was aware of the private well on Riverview Road before Tuesday morning’s explosion. The agency has not yet responded to our question.

Warning from police on fundraising efforts

Crescent Township police are warning people who may wish to donate that fraudulent fundraisers have been set up.

These fundraisers are presented as being for the family of the victims, but they are not connected to the family.

At this time, there are no official fundraisers set up for the family of David and Helen Mitchell.

“It has come to our attention that there are unauthorized fundraising efforts purportedly in support of the affected family. I must emphasize that the family has not endorsed any such initiatives,” Police Chief Frank Marks said. “At this time, the family is navigating through the immense pain and grief of their loss. Exploiting their tragedy for personal gain is reprehensible and utterly unacceptable.”

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