• 2 firemen burned in gas explosion; W. Haverstraw families back after evacuation


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    Haverstraw, NY.



    WEST HAVERSTRAW — Two volunteer firefighters remained hospitalized Monday night with serious burns after leaking gas caused an explosion, destroying a townhouse and displacing 90 families.

    The volunteer firefighters were at the front door of 52 Zarriello Lane when the explosion blew them 25 to 30 feet and turned the building into a pile of rubble.

    The two seriously injured firefighters, Ken Patterson and fire instructor Jerry Knapp, were taken to Westchester Medical Center in Vallhalla following the 12:37 p.m. explosion.

    The firefighters were knocking on front doors on Zarriello Lane as part of a precautionary evacuation of about 100 homes. Instead, hundreds of residents were displaced while emergency personnel worked at the scene.

    As a result of the explosion and fire, hundreds of people were kept from their homes until nearly midnight, waiting for units to be declared safe and power to be restored in the Village Fairgrounds II development off Route 9W, said Gordon Wren Jr., Rockland Fire and Emergency Services coordinator.

    Knapp, who lives near the development and is West Haverstraw’s emergency coordinator, suffered first- and second-degree burns to his face, West Haverstraw Mayor John Ramundo said. Patterson, who is employed by the village Department of Public Works, suffered severe burns to a leg.

    Neither firefighter suffered life-threatening injuries, a staff member at Westchester Medical Center told The Journal News. Patterson is in serious condition in the trauma intensive care unit.

    Monday’s explosion also injured two Orange and Rockland Utilities employees, who were not as seriously hurt. One was taken to Nyack Hospital and the other to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, where he was remaining overnight for observation.

    “They were lucky to get out of there alive,” Raymond Florida, Rockland Paramedic Services executive director, said from the fire scene. “There’s a gaping hole where the houses used to be. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

    The Stony Point Ambulance and Haverstraw Ambulance corps took the firefighters to Westchester Medical Center rather than waiting for a medical helicopter. A work crew for a Verizon subcontractor, FGC Communications Inc. of Cortlandt, ruptured the gas main just before 12:13 p.m., authorities said.

    Upon responding to a call of gas leak at the Village Fairgrounds II condominiums, Haverstraw police, West Haverstraw Fire Department and O&R crews were knocking on doors, alerting residents to leave as a precaution because of the gas leak.

    The routine response quickly became an emergency with serious injuries. Gas fumes were still strong in the area for most of the day.

    “They knocked on the door at 52 Zarriello right before the explosion,” O&R spokesman Michael Donovan said of the O&R employees. “No one answered, so we assume no one was home.”

    Verizon said in a statement that “a contractor on a Verizon project was doing underground work in the area and appears to have hit a gas line.”

    “The contractor reported the matter promptly to 911 and the gas company (O&R), and began assisting in notification and evacuation of nearby residents. Our internal investigation is still in progress at this time,” the statement said.

    Two O&R gas service technicians, Ian Mackey and Libor Stipek, were checking the storm drains for gas when the explosion occurred.

    “They were hit with rubble from the explosion, went down, were injured and still worked to shut off the gas,” Donovan said. “They just picked themselves up and kept working.”

    Mackey was sent to Good Samaritan Hospital and was to remain there overnight for observation, Donovan said.

    Stipek was taken to Nyack Hospital and released, Donovan said, adding that he later showed up back the explosion scene prepared to work, but was sent home.

    O&R cut off power to 5,000 customers in Haverstraw and West Haverstraw at approximately 1:15 p.m. to make sure use of an electrical appliance would not spark another explosion, Donovan said.

    As of 7:30 p.m., most electrical service had been restored to the neighborhood and the company hoped to have service fully restored by midnght, to allow residents to return home. About 75 O&R workers and 25 workers from O&R’s parent company, Consolidated Edison, were on the scene, Donovan said.

    He said an investigation was under way to determine whether Verizon had contacted O&R to obtain a mark-out of underground utility lines.

    Route 9W was closed at Gurnee Avenue in Haverstraw for about three hours after the explosion.

    Two neighbors of the leveled house said the family moved into the townhouse several months ago. They said their name is “Hall.” The family — a married couple with two young boys — was home when workers wanted to use their phone. They then left to go shopping, returning later to find their home in rubble.

    The family declined to comment when approached at the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, and later in front of the Hi-Tor bowling alley, where many of displaced residents took refuge from the cold.

    Selene Lupo, who lives near the explosion site, said she saw the explosion.

    “I happened to be looking out the window, and I saw it happen. I heard a boom first, and I saw a cloud of gas. Everything was flying in the air, and I saw the back of the house fall,” Lupo said. “We just panicked and started screaming to get out of the house.”

    After the explosion, insulation materials and debris from the building rained down on the area, said Anthony Simini, 46, who lives on Melucci Court near the townhouse.

    Simini and Katie Garcia, 35, said their homes shook as if a bomb exploded.

    “I heard a loud boom and the whole house shook,” Garcia said. “Things were falling off the shelves.”

    The owner of Hi-Tor Lanes opened up the facility, near the housing development, to emergency personnel and displaced residents, comforting them with pizza and sodas.

    Carolyn Sherwin of the American Red Cross said 58 families out of 90 families were at the bowling alley at one point.

    Staff writers Mareesa Nicosia and Will David contributed to this report.