POTTSTOWN — Residents living near the site of a house that exploded Thursday night on Hale Street were coming to terms Friday with what had happened.
“I woke up this morning … you know how some people say they forget until it hits them. It wasn’t like that at all. I opened my eyes and I was just like ‘oh my god. This is my reality,’” said Pottstown resident Rebecca Scott.
Scott, 27, lives in a home on Butler Street with her fiancé.
“It was surreal. It was dissociating. My brain couldn’t wrap around what was happening,” she said. “There was debris falling from the sky. The street was just it was like an ocean of house just crashed and filled the street. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life.”
The incident that killed five people occurred at 8:07 p.m. Thursday on Hale Street, between Butler and West streets, according to authorities. The Pottstown Police Department said the dead were Francine White, 67; Alana Wood, 13; Jeremiah White, 12; Nehemiah White, 10; and Tristan White, 8. The survivors were identified by police as Eugene White, 44, and Kristina Matuzsan, 32. Police didn’t specify where they were patients. The relationships among all the dead and injured were not known.
Scott recalled being upstairs when she thought she heard thunder.
The sound kept “crescendoing and getting louder and louder,” Scott said. When she “saw debris hit the window,” her thoughts turned to the outside.
“I thought the tree in front of our house was falling. I thought I was about to get crushed,” she said.
She went downstairs to find picture frames that had hung on the wall now on the floor and nails loose from a beam. She called out to her fiancé who had been downstairs.
“I screamed for him and he said, ‘call 911. The neighbors house exploded,’” Scott said. “And I said ‘I couldn’t comprehend what that meant,’ and then he ran outside because we knew that kids lived there. So he ran outside, and him and another one of our neighbors ran to the house, to try and help, and there was nothing to help. I mean everything was gone.”
‘It’s going to stick with me’
For many living nearby, it was difficult to articulate Thursday night’s events.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words just to say what I saw,” said 32-year-old Kenneth Cotton Jr. “It’s going to stick with me for a while.”
Cotton said he was staying with a relative at the house next door when the explosion happened. He’d initially been mowing the lawn when he went inside his house.
“Coming back out, that’s when I saw the sky light up from the explosion, and the impact knocked me into the house,” Scott said. “My screen door blew off … the door’s there but the glass that was inside the door knocked me into the house and I slid across the floor.
“All I see was I think a transformer blew across the street after the fact,” he continued. “It sounded like three explosions back-to-back-to-back. I just remember laying there, and I had to roll to my side to get the screen door off me because instantly I just started hearing ringing, and trying to digest what was going on at the time.”
Cotton recalled “debris flying everywhere.” While he was attempting to get to the back door of the house, he described what “sounded like the explosion behind the house.”
“My back door busts through, and the glass in my kitchen shattered everywhere,” he said. “I just headed toward the basement because all I saw was lines being ripped and snapping everywhere. I didn’t know if it was a tornado hitting because it was just random something out of nowhere.”
Living in Pottstown his entire life, Cotton said he never expected what happened on Thursday evening.
“It looked like it got bombed,” he said. “I’ve never experienced an explosion in my life other than in action movies and things like that.”
Neighbors living further from the blast site were unnerved in the minutes that followed. Some heard the explosion. Others felt it.
“It shook my 100-year-old solid brick house,” said Pottstown resident Michele Anderson.
Justice Butts, 22, of Pottstown, said she witnessed it from her car mirror.
“The first thing you … heard a crackle sound, and you heard the power lines immediately explode, and you saw the blue, and then all of a sudden I saw the insulation in the air and smoke,” Butts said.
‘A house just blew up’
“We were on the porch … and somebody looked at me, a friend of mine, and went ‘that was a house that just blew up,’” said Pottstown resident Stephanie Catch. “We’ve never heard anything like that before ever.”
Pottstown Fire Chief Frank Hand said during a Friday afternoon press conference that “two homes were completed destroyed.”
On Friday, insulation could be seen on lawns, cars and the street nearby. Scott categorized the falling “debris” as “an ocean wave crashing onto our street.”
Authorities have not yet confirmed the cause or circumstances leading up to the explosion.
“We walked our dog past that place every single day and we smelled gas every single day,” Scott said. “My fiancé called PECO twice and reported it, and both times an inspector had come out, and it was fine.”
The incident remains under investigation, according to authorities.
‘Pictures of us are on the floor’
Area residents have sustained an unknown amount of destruction. Cotton said his car was damaged. Scott said her home was “condemned until further notice.”
“Well we just moved in a year ago. We’re getting married next June. So it’s just a lot of sadness,” she said. “We worked really hard to build this house into a home, and now all the walls are cracked, and the pictures of us are on the floor. It’s a lot. It’s a lot.”
The trauma stuck with her in the hours that followed.
“I was afraid when I went to bed last night,” she said. “I was afraid to sleep next to the windows. I just had this fear of the windows breaking in or something.”
Scott added that many of her neighbors expressed feelings of distress in the aftermath of Thursday’s explosion.
The next day, several members of the community shared that their thoughts were with the family who Scott said “had been living there less than a year.”
“I just feel so bad for that family,” Cotton said, who went on to say that “it’s just being a father, and a parent yourself, you feel for that family.”
Scott said that “their kids were friends with our dog,” Piper, a mutt nearly 2 years old.
Scott added she learned that the family’s dogs had survived, and if possible, she’s hoping to give their puppy a good home.
“I mean the whole community is stepping up. The Red Cross people were so kind, so wonderful. They were just so wonderful,” Scott said. “You never expect to be talking to someone in a red vest. You see it on the news and you never think it’s going to be you.”
The American Red Cross set up a reception center late Thursday night at the nearby Pottstown High School gymnasium. Four volunteers were assisting people throughout the overnight hours, according to American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Communications Manager Alana Mauger.
The disaster relief agency has been in touch with 25 people within nine families, according to Mauger, who noted there were 22 adults and three children being cared for. The site was open again on Saturday for those in need. A light breakfast and lunch is also being served, she said. Anyone displaced or impacted by the incident in Pottstown can reach out to the organization at 1-800-733-2767.
“I think people are grateful to have a place to go,” Mauger said. “Our goal is just to keep them safe and hopefully connect them with the resources that they need and understand that this is just a really challenging time and sometimes just being there to listen.”
In the meantime, people in Pottstown continue to come together.
“Just hug your loved ones … In a blink your whole life is different,” Scott said.
Source: Berkshire mont