House explosion rattles Edina: 'Everything shook'

A contractor apparently severed an underground natural gas line.

Jeanette Augustson was at work Tuesday afternoon when one of her Edina neighbors called with unbelievable news.

The neighbor said "a house had blown up on our street, and it might be mine," Augustson said late Tuesday.

A co-worker tried to drive Augustson, 35, home, but they encountered streets full of emergency vehicles and a chaotic scene of flames and smoke.

A police officer told Augustson it was true -- the house at 5000 Arden Av. that she shared with her husband, Matthew, 35, and two children, ages 5 and 2, had been leveled by a tremendous explosion at 2:40 p.m. Their dog, Grete, had been rushed to an animal hospital with serious injuries.

"We are so glad we weren't home, and so grateful for everyone's support," Jeanette Augustson said from the home of relatives Tuesday night. Her husband was in Amsterdam on business, and her children were at school or in day care when the house blew up, she said.

Becca Virden, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy, said that the house exploded after a contractor for a cable company severed an underground natural gas main nearby. Augustson said that work had been going on in the street in front of her house for a couple of days.

No one was hurt in the blast, which was heard and felt six blocks away. Up to 60 homes in the area were evacuated, and a four-block perimeter was set up. By late Tuesday, most evacuees had returned to their homes.

Witness Jake Schlegel said that the fire engulfed the house: "There were flames everywhere, and some of them were 15 feet high in the yard," he said.

Refuge at the country club

After the blast, families from the area gathered at a neighborhood shelter of sorts -- in the pub at Edina Country Club.

There was lemonade for the kids, wine and beer for the adults, and a dish of water for Chester, 3, the golden retriever.

His owner, Ruth Noack, had just removed Chester's leash after a long walk, she said, when she heard the BOOM! about a block from her 50th Street home.

After the explosion, she and Chester took refuge at Jerry's Foods in Edina, with Chester staying outside. Later, they headed to the Edina Country Club after clubhouse director Carl Granberg told authorities to spread the word: Neighbors were welcome.

Arlene and Brad Forrest, who live about a block from the destruction, sat at a table in the Edina Country Club pub. Nearby, a group of children and a few parents watched coverage of the explosion on a big-screen television.

Arlene Forrest said the house that was destroyed "was charming."

"Most of the homes are in this neighborhood," she said.

According to Hennepin County records, the house, which was built in 1940, had an estimated market value of $538,900.

In the days to come, the Augustsons, who bought the property in 2007, will be working with their insurance company, Jeanette Augustson said, but many items in the house were personal and irreplaceable.

Still, late Tuesday, she was focusing with relief on the fact that her family was safe. "We are enormously grateful," she said.

alonetree@startribune.com • 612-673-4109 pmiller@startribune.com • 612-673-4290 Staff writers Bob von Sternberg and Abby Simons contributed to this report.

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