Heavy equipment is brought in to help Allegheny County Fire Marshalls and Moon Volunteer Fire Dept. members sift through the rubble of a home at 1656 Charlton Heights Road for clues as to why the house exploded Saturday evening.
Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette
Moon Volunteer firefighters survey damage from the basement of 1656 Charlton Heights Rd. Sunday.
By Robert Zullo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It sounded, Kim Towery said, like "holy hell."
Ms. Towery, a retired flight attendant, was inside her house on Charlton Heights Road in Moon on Saturday night when an enormous explosion leveled a home three doors down and seriously damaged at least three others.
"A massive sonic boom," Ms. Towery said. "Everything shuddered and you heard flying glass."
Explosion rocks house in Moon
A home at 1656 Charlton Heights Rd. in Moon exploded Saturday night, injuring two and damaging several homes. (Video by Bob Donaldson; 10/12/2013)
The blast, which firefighters said happened about 6:45 p.m. and could be heard miles away, injured two people, knocked in windows and sent debris flying, damaging as many as 14 other houses on the leafy suburban street of single-family homes, where pieces of insulation and shingles hung in trees like confetti Sunday.
Shawn Landa, 47, who lived at 1656 Charlton Heights Road, which was totally destroyed in the explosion, was found underneath rubble in his front yard, neighbors and firefighters said. He was flown to UPMC Mercy with second-degree burns covering about 12 percent of his body and a broken rib, said Don Brucker, Allegheny County chief deputy fire marshal. A nursing supervisor at UPMC Mercy said Mr. Landa remained in intensive care Sunday evening. His condition was listed as serious.
One of Mr. Landa's next-door neighbors, Alan Lisica, 61, was sitting at a desk inside his house at 1654 Charlton Heights Road when the blast caved in his wall and buried him up to his head in debris, according to neighbors who helped pull him out. He was taken by ambulance to UPMC Mercy with "bumps, bruises, cuts and an eye injury," Chief Deputy Brucker said. The hospital listed him in fair condition.
Officials said the cause of the explosion at Mr. Landa's house was officially undetermined.
"There are still some unanswered questions. We're still doing our investigation," said John Scott, chief of the Moon Township Volunteer Fire Company.
Rachel Ford, a spokeswoman for Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, said the company had examined the gas connections to Mr. Landa's house and found "no leaks or safety implications that would have caused this incident."
Just after 7 p.m. Saturday, Raquel Richards, 14, and her cousin Hannah Geier, 20, were heading back from the Mall at Robinson to Raquel's house on Charlton Heights Road when they saw the large plume of smoke.
"It was kind of weird," Raquel said. "Friday morning when I was walking home from school, the house was there, and now it's not."
Christian Laskey, 21, who lives about five houses down from Mr. Landa, was eating dinner on his front porch when the explosion rattled his home. "My first thought was a plane crash," he said, because of the neighborhood's proximity to the airport. He and his father, Staff Sgt. Thomas Laskey, a soldier with a Coraopolis Army Reserve unit, came out to the street and saw a "huge ball of fire."
As they came into view of the leveled home, they "stood right there awestruck," before they heard cries for help from Mr. Lisica.
"Unless we go to war or war is here, I'll never see another explosion like that," Christian Laskey said, adding that the fireball extended over the tops of the tallest trees in the neighborhood.
Mr. Laskey's mother, Karen, a registered nurse, helped the two men pull Mr. Lisica from his home and into the street.
"You could just see the top of his head," Mrs. Laskey said, adding that her husband later went to check on other neighbors. "He went to every house to make sure no one was home."
Rick Ruffing, 62, an exterminator who lives at 1652 Charlton Heights Road, two doors from explosion, was with his wife at a wedding reception when the blast knocked Mr. Lisica's chimney into his living room.
"I might have even been watching a football game," Mr. Ruffing said. "But the Lord protected us very well."
Mr. Ruffing said he was waiting for the final word from his insurance adjuster but didn't think his house would have to be taken down.
In a separate investigation stemming from the explosion, police said they uncovered a marijuana growing operation at 1660 Charlton Heights, on the other side of Mr. Landa's house, and arrested the homeowner, William Amend, 61.
Police said his daughter approached officers at the scene and asked them to check on her parents at that address because she couldn't reach them.
An officer went inside the damaged house and immediately smelled marijuana. He then found Mr. Amend as he was locking the outside door and evacuated him for his safety.
After obtaining a search warrant, they said they recovered a "substantial amount" of recently harvested pot plants, paraphernalia for growing them indoors and numerous guns and ammo.
Mr. Amend was charged with possession, possession with intent to deliver and manufacture of a controlled substance and faces a preliminary hearing on Oct. 22.
Phyllis Tkach, 60, who has lived on the street since 1965, called Mr. Amend a "great guy."
"I wouldn't want any other neighbor," she said. "The whole neighborhood loves him."
Another neighbor said Mr. Amend had cut her grass when she was unable to because of an injury, was kind to her small dog and offered tips on growing vegetables.
Ms. Tkach said police made frequent appearances to Mr. Landa's home in the past year.