September 17, 2014

Elyria
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COLUMBIA AVENUE EXPLOSION: Blast shocks neighbors, was heard for miles

Jenny and Christopher Willard stand among the rubble and watch as emergency response workers attempt to put out a fire from an explosion at their Columbia Avenue home. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

Jenny and Christopher Willard stand among the rubble and watch as emergency response workers attempt to put out a fire from an explosion at their Columbia Avenue home. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — A long-vacant Columbia Avenue home exploded Friday night and the reverberations sent shockwaves through the city with hundreds of people simultaneously thinking the same thought.

“I thought it was my house,” said Bill Ackman. “I literally thought someone slammed a car or truck into my home. It was like something I had never heard before.”

Ackman, 65, of Stanford Avenue, said his home violently shook just before 10 p.m. and he could do nothing but drop his telephone and run outside. Once in his front yard, he quickly learned it was not his home but one a street away that was destroyed.

“It was scary, like a bomb just went off,” he said.

Could it have been a bomb, car accident or fallen tree?

Until neighbors came out of their homes, there was no way to know what the massive boom was.

“It shook pictures off my wall, and, I’m not going to lie, I grabbed a golf club and ran outside because I didn’t know what was happening,” said 23-year-old Cody Jones. “I wasn’t the only one. Everyone grabbed something.”

Fire and police arrived within minutes. It is not known at this time why the home exploded. It was reduced to rubble and extensive damage was done to neighboring homes on either side.

Neighbors in the area suspect a gas leak.

“The gas company was here all day,” Ackman said. “We could smell the gas. I was going to call, but I looked outside and saw the Columbia Gas truck on my street, so I didn’t.”
Jones, who lives on the corner of Stanford and Park avenues, said the immediate scene on both Stanford and Columbia, where debris littered nearly the street, was nothing short of chaos with people running out of their homes and running toward a growing fireball that was once a house.

“Our hearts literally dropped,” he said. “It didn’t take no time for the street to be filled with people, asking if there was anything they could do or was anyone hurt.”

Facebook responses on The Chronicle-Telegram’s page quantified the magnitude of the blast. As soon as the explosion rocked, the social media site likewise erupted with reactions.

“I live in North Ridgeville, and I heard this,” said a post from a woman named Jennifer Smith. “It shook my house.”

Kim Morgan Dobbins, who lives in the St. Jude area, posted that it shook her home.

“Thought something fell on my house,” she said.

The messages came one after another — from Grafton, Eaton Township, Sheffield and Columbia Station.

“I heard it and I got a call right away from a friend on Louisiana Avenue who thought a cannon went off,” said 18-year-old Bryce Meyers also of Stanford Avenue. “I thought it was a car. My little brother thought it was lightning. I peeked out the window and all I saw was flames.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter at LisaRobersonCT.