Fourplex explosion blamed on copper-piping thieves

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG
  • Updated: September 21, 2008 - 6:06 PM

Fourplex explosion blamed on copper-piping thieves.

A vacant north Minneapolis fourplex exploded into ruins Sunday morning after copper theft led to a natural gas leak.

CenterPoint Energy spokeswoman Becca Virden said a company supervisor at the scene of the explosion at 2407 Golden Valley Rd. determined the cause with Minneapolis Fire Department investigators.

The building had been vacant and boarded up for about a year, said Minneapolis fire investigator Denise Bryn. No injuries were reported.

Rene Hatchett, who lives in a duplex next door, said she awoke about 8 a.m. to the strong smell of gas. Her downstairs neighbor, Charmaine Brown, said she tried to call Minneapolis 311, a source for city information, services and complaints, from a nearby pay phone but could not get through because she didn't have 50 cents for the call.

Brown said she then dialed the operator in hopes she could be connected to help, but was told to call 311. Brown said she didn't have the money and left.

"I smelled gas real bad to the point that I felt nauseous," said Brown, adding that she didn't call 911 because she didn't think the smell was an emergency.

Hatchett was cooking when the vacant house exploded about 10:30 a.m., shattering her windows.

"The whole house just shook," she said. "I thought it was an earthquake."

The explosion threw Brown several feet before she grabbed her son and ordered her daughter to evacuate. Debris from the house blew into her home. The force of the explosion was felt about a mile away, Bryn said.

"It sounded like a bomb," Brown said.

Both families were relocated by the American Red Cross. Hatchett said her teenage daughter had heard people moving around the vacant house about 2 a.m. Sunday.

Virden said that if people smell, see or hear a suspected gas leak they should:

• Alert neighbors and evacuate on foot.

• Refrain from using vehicles, cell phones, land-line phones, computers or light switches, which can all spark a fire.

• Walk crossing the wind direction and call 911 or CenterPoint's toll-free line, 1-800-722-9362, once you can't smell the gas.

• Never try to repair gas leaks.

CenterPoint wasn't notified of the leak until the house had exploded and someone had called 911. "It's better to be safe, to take the extra precaution," Virden said.

CenterPoint shuts off gas to vacant houses at the homeowner's request, she said. The house that exploded was put on the market about two months ago. The owners regularly checked on the property, neighbors said.

Minneapolis police Sgt. Jesse Garcia said that homeowners are responsible for calling their gas company to have gas shut off if their homes are going to be vacant.

"Copper thieves will break into homes with no regard," he said.

Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391

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