UPDATE: 1 dead after explosion levels home, rocks Yarmouth neighborhood

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YARMOUTH — An explosion rocked a condominium subdivision off North Road Tuesday morning, killing one man, injuring four people, leveling a home and damaging more than a dozen other buildings.

Peter Corey, 66, was killed, according to his brother, Walter Corey, who owns the property at 50 Gables Drive where the blast occurred at 6:17 a.m. Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland later confirmed Peter Corey’s death.

The cause of the explosion is likely propane, Sgt. Ken Grimes of the state fire marshal’s office said on Wednesday.

Four people who received minor injuries were treated and released, including a firefighter who suffered from exhaustion, Yarmouth Police Chief Michael Morrill said.  Robert and Rosemary MacKay, residents of the adjoining unit, 52 Gables Drive, received minor injuries, as did Mary Hallsey, a resident of an adjacent building, according to McCausland.

The explosion took place on a quiet, dead-end street lined with 14 duplex condominium units. The subdivision, which is called Gables North, was built in the mid 1980s. Most of the residents are elderly, Yarmouth Fire Chief Michael Robitaille said.

At least four units will need to be rebuilt, according to Jeff Martin, owner of Foreside Real Estate Management, the company that manages the properties. The count could rise as high as eight, he added.

The blast occurred without warning.

Amory Houghton, who lives at 34 Gables Drive, said he was walking toward his driveway to get the morning paper, when he paused to clean out his car. It was a decision that might have saved his life, he said.

“All of a sudden there was this horrendous explosion and a pall of smoke,” Houghton said.

Houghton ran to the street to see what happened. A nearby home had its roof ripped off. The house at 50 Gables Drive was “down to the sticks,” he said. Next, Houghton ran indoors to call 911, but emergency responders were already arriving.

“It was an extremely quick response,” he said.

The arriving firefighters treated the scene as if it was a mass casualty incident and dispatched first responders from Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, North Yarmouth, Portland, Topsham and Westbrook to stand by, Robitaille said.

The swath of damage extended nearly 200 yards in all directions, and the sounds and vibrations from the blast were experienced as far away as Portland and Peaks Island. Yarmouth Police Lt. Dean Perry said he was in Falmouth when he heard and felt the explosion rattle the earth below his feet. Seconds later he was dispatched to the scene.

Insulation from the home landed about a mile away on East Main Street. Two blocks away, the Yarmouth Fire Station sustained minor damage and a fire deputy was knocked down by the blast wave. About 100 yards away, the Robert W. Boyd Amvets Post No. 2, which was scheduled to hold town elections throughout the day Tuesday, suffered cracked plaster and blown-out ceiling tiles. About a block away in the opposite direction, pipe joints came apart in the town garage.

Elizabeth Dobson, who lives on North Road, said she felt the blast at her house.

“I saw flashes and a ball of light and then a boom,” she said, noting that it blew open dresser drawers and doors in her house. “It looked like someone had come through to steal stuff.”

Closer, on a street parallel to Gables Drive, several houses were damaged, including Maryann Gordon’s two-story home.

Gordon, who lives with her husband at 67 Balsam Drive, gave a tour of her blast-damaged house. Windows on all sides were shattered or blown out of their frames. Gordon’s home is about 50 yards from the blast site, separated by a stand of conifer trees. She was lying in bed when it happened.

“It was concussive,” Gordon said of the shock wave.

Even windows on the far side of the home were blown inward from the blast’s repercussions.

Two hours after the explosion, Morrill stood on debris in a neighbor’s yard, more than a hundred yards away from the blast scene, and remarked on the low number of casualties.

“It’s hard to believe,” he said, while pieces of white insulation continued to float in the air like drifting dandelion seeds.

Several hours after the blast, investigators were still combing through the debris. Residents on the street were kept out of their homes while engineers surveyed each structure for stability. Gables Road was closed throughout the day.

Grimes couldn’t estimate how long the investigation would take, but said neighbors would be interviewed to determine whether anyone smelled anything prior to the blast or if any recent maintenance had been done at Corey’s home.

Propane, which provides heat and hot water for the units, is the suspected cause of the blast, but it hasn’t been confirmed, Grimes said. Houghton said the units also have propane fireplaces and cook stoves.

Propane explosions are rare in Maine, Grimes added. Every year, his department investigates three or four incidents. In February, a propane leak caused a building explosion and fire that killed a woman in Bath.

“Propane is located in thousands of homes in the state of Maine. If you have one instance out of thousands of homes, people shouldn’t be alarmed that propane is a problem fuel,” he said.

Corey’s body was found at the blast site, but Grimes wouldn’t say exactly where.

Neighbors knew very little about Peter Corey, but the neighborhood association was concerned about him, Houghton said. Corey was handicapped and deaf, so communicating with him was difficult. Members of the neighborhood association wondered if Corey was able to fully care for himself, Houghton said.

Walter Corey declined to answer a reporter’s questions when reached by phone Tuesday morning, but he confirmed that Peter Corey had been killed.

“My brother died today. I’m devastated,” he said. “He was my only brother.”

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff. Ben McCanna can be reached at ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.

Sidebar Elements

Firefighters at the scene of the explosion Tuesday morning in Yarmouth.

Investigators examine the wreckage in an aerial view of the destruction caused by an explosion on Gables Drive in Yarmouth Tuesday.

A firefighter who suffered exhaustion is removed from the Yarmouth neighborhood where an explosion destroyed one home and damaged 12 others Tuesday morning.

Investigators survey debris-strewn Gables Drive. The condo at 50 Gables Drive was leveled in the morning blast.

Yarmouth Lt. Dean Perry stands watch by caution tape stretched across Gables Drive. Perry heard the 6:17 a.m. blast in Falmouth and knew something exploded, he said. A few seconds later, he was called to the scene.

Maryann Gordon, of 67 Balsam Drive, points out damage at her home, about 75 yards from 50 Gables Drive, where the blast occurred. Gordon was lying in bed at the time of the explosion, which was “concussive,” she said. Windows on the far side of her home, hidden from the blast, were blown inward. Yarmouth detective Paul Martin said it was due to the blast’s repercussions.

Yarmouth detective Paul Martin surveys the damage behind 52 Gables Drive, the condo just adjacent to the blast site.

The fire chief from North Yarmouth scours the woods for evidence during the investigation into the explosion at 50 Gables Drive.

The scene from the back of 50 Gables Drive. Debris and fiberglass are strewn through many yards and well into the woods.

A fire captain’s helmet rests on Gables Drive just beyond yellow caution tape. No firefighters were seriously injured, but some were treated for heat exhaustion.

The scene on Gables Drive in Yarmouth Tuesday morning, where an explosion destroyed one home and damaged 12.

Yarmouth Police Chief Michael Morrill talks with reporters Tuesday morning about the explosion that rocked the neighborhood off North Road.