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Neighborhood evacuated after building explodes in Lancaster County

  • By Ann Rejrat and Jack Panyard, LNP | LancasterOnline
Smoke and flames pour from the Rapho Township public works building after an explosion Wednesday, July 5.


Smoke and flames pour from the Rapho Township public works building after an explosion Wednesday, July 5.

The public works building next to the Rapho Township municipal building on Colebrook Road exploded Wednesday morning after a reported gas leak.

Dozens of houses nearby were evacuated, and the 900 block of Colebrook Road was shut down, but no injuries have been reported.

A propane leak in the public works building, where the township houses its trucks and equipment, was reported around 5:30 a.m., and the building exploded soon after firefighters arrived, according to a dispatcher from Lancaster County-Wide Communications.

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Rapho Emergency Management Coordinator Lori Shenk said emergency crews are still assessing the extent of the damages. She said six employees were on the scene at the time of the explosion, but did not give an official cause.

Township Supervisor Jere Swarr said the building was totally destroyed and the equipment the team uses, including five trucks, has been lost. He said there would have been five employees coming in today, but nobody from public works was on site before the explosion.

Submitted by Zach-Deanne Jones

Smoke pours from the Rapho Township public works building following an explosion Wednesday.

Swarr said a township employee smelled propane when they entered the building in the morning and did not switch on the lights because of it. He said the team decided to call emergency services because of the smell.

Mastersonville Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Siegrist said at least 150 people were on scene working on the fire. Dispatch reports show dozens of emergency teams from Lancaster, Dauphin and Lebanon reported to the scene. A dispatcher said there are no fire hydrants nearby, making many tankers necessary.

The Red Cross set up an emergency services station at East Fairview Church of the Brethren at Hossler and Fairview roads to help displaced residents, provide relocation services and offer general support.

“Our goal is to make sure people have somewhere safe to go and food in their stomachs,” said Thomas Gormley, the agency’s direct services manager.

Shenk advised residents whose homes had been damaged to reach out to their insurance providers as soon as possible.

The stretch of road surrounding the municipal building will likely be closed for the rest of the week, Shenk said, as structural engineers evaluate the remains of the structure and the soundness of the adjacent township administrative building, as well as surrounding residences.

A state police fire marshal is on the scene helping with assessments. Swarr said the damages are in the millions.

Township operations will continue off site while the damage is assessed. Supervisor Lowell Fry said there will be a township meeting at East Fairview Church of the Brethren at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Fry said as soon as Colebrook Road reopens, the township will place trailers at the municipal building site as temporary offices.

“We lost our building, we have heavy damage in our office building, but they’re buildings, no lives were lost,” Swarr said. “The explosion did not damage the heart of Rapho Township. We will build back, we will rise up. We have a great community and great neighbors.”

Collateral damage

Submitted by Brett Rose

Passenger-side window of Brett Rose’s vehicle, which shattered from the impact of the garage explosion at the Rapho Township Municipal Building on Wednesday, July 5.

Brett Rose, 27, of Kennett Square, drives past the township building most mornings on his way to work, at a business about a mile away on Sunnyside Road. As he passed by Wednesday, the building exploded and the airbags in his truck deployed. He said it felt like driving into a wall.

“I thought I might have hit something or ran something over. I was pretty disoriented when I got out of my truck,” Rose said. “That’s when I saw the massive black smoke cloud behind me and realized I got hit by the shock.”

The explosion cracked one of his windows, and the truck had to be towed from the scene.

Rose said he saw a house that had been pushed off its foundation.

Neighbors heard and felt the blast. Alma Wenger, 69, of 1008 Colebrook Road, said she was sleeping when the building exploded. She heard the noise, woke up immediately and looked out to see flashing lights, smoke and a chaotic scene at the municipal center. Her house is on the perimeter of the center.

She thought it was an earthquake.

“I was just shaking inside,” she said.

Wenger said her front windows were blown in, her garage door was sucked in, and there’s damage to the ceiling in her home. She says family members who work in the area heard and saw the explosion and found debris miles away.

Wenger said she got off lucky, as one of her neighbors had part of a ceiling cave in. She also said some of her relatives who live nearby experienced home damage.

Bruce Deck, 85, who lives at the corner of Colebrook and Hossler roads, had a window blown out of his garage, and the double doors in his house blew open.

“Loudest alarm clock I ever had,” Deck said. “Cleanup is going to take awhile, but it’s most important that people are OK. I never heard anything like that though. I was in the Navy, and on gunships, and never heard anything like that. I heard a big boom, then whoosh.”

Linford and Andrea Steiner, who live on Hossler Road, had a window blown out from the explosion. Andrea, who was asleep at the time, said she thought a semitrailer hit the house. Linford, who was milking cows 2 miles away, felt the blast.

“Knew something happened to someone that they didn’t want to happen,” he said.

Lancaster County residents reported hearing and feeling the blast from as far away as Columbia, Millersville and Elizabethtown, and residents of Palmyra in Lebanon County also felt it.

Since 2004, Lancaster County has had five building explosions including Wednesday’s explosion.

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