Fremont, NE Hotel Explosion Caused By Gas, Jan 1976
WHEN THE GAS LEAK WAS CONFIRMED, REACTION TIME TICKED INTO TRAGEDY.
Fremont -- JIM RHODUS took a few steps on West 6th St., gazed up at the still-burning shell of what was once the Pathfinder Hotel and wiped tears from his eyes.
A fireman touched him gently on the shoulder. "They're bringing down another one," he told RHODUS as his own eyes glazed over with tears.
RHODUS, manager and owner of the New Frontier Lounge in the hotel, said he was getting ready to attend the funeral of ANN HOPPES when his 16-year-old daughter, who was working in the hotel, called him at 8 a.m. to tell him that maintenance man STAN COLLINS could smell gas.
(MRS. HOPPES was the daughter of hotel owner LOUISE HAMMOND and her husband, BOYD. MRS. HOPPES' body was found Wednesday in Pawnee Lake, and her husband, TOM, has been charged with first-degree murder.)
Frustrated when no one answered the telphone at Nebraska Natural Gas Co., RHODUS said he called the Fremont police, who in turn told him to call the gas company.
When gas company personnel arrived to investigate, the man who read the meter told COLLINS to evacuate the building. COLLINS had only enough time to tell the kitchen help to get out because about three minutes later the building blew up, RHODUS said.
Trays of doughnuts, covered with dirt and debris, stand in what were the windows of the Vienna Bakery, 539 No. Broad St. As RHODUS walks by, his voice trembles as he says a woman died in there.
At the Red Cross station, RHODUS and his assistant, TERRY WHEELOCK, tried to remember the names of the 36 hotel apartment tenants, most of them elderly. "The old blind man, he's probably gone ...."
Lots Of Glass, Gas.
Meanwhile, on the streets, ice-covered firemen continued to pour water on the blaze and periodically carried out victims.
A National Guardsman repeatedly warned: "There's lots of glass and gas up ahead."
The concerned and the curious stood and stared and told sroties, stories of a strong odor of gas in the area before the explosion, of how, before the explosion, the sidewalk in front of the hotel lifted straight up in the air and settled eight feet down into the ground, of hysterical people searching for relatives; of hotel windows fluttering before they shattered, of an explosion so full of force that people in buildings blocks away thought the buldings they were in were exploding, of people yelling for help, whom firemen could not reach, of BOYD HAMMOND standing in the street crying.
JOHN PARDEE of Fremont, who was with his flight instructor one mile south of town at an altitude of 1,000 feet at the time of the explosion, said the plane encountered severe turbulence from the blast.
It was anything but business as usual in downtown Fremont. Windows were broken and property damage was visible in a nine-block radius. Confusion and agony were the order of the day.
JIM GARNER, owner of the Brass Lantern and Lariat Club, said the Brass Lantern, located two blocks south of the hotel, suffered no damage, but the blast shattered windows at a Safeway store 20 blocks east on the mall.
As RHODUS continued to wander about in the ruins, he said softly, "We were remodeling. It was just going so great ...."
Lincoln Evening Journal Nebraska 1976-01-11
SEVERAL STILL MISSING AFTER BLAST.
SUNDAY IN FREMONT NOT ROUTINE.
Fremont -- On first glance, Sunday seemed like a pretty routine day in this city of 23,000. It wasn't.
The smell of burnt wood that hung over downtown and the crowds standing behind men in uniforms proved it.
An explosion Saturday had destroyed the resident Pathfinder Hotel and several surrounding buildings, taking the lies of 12 persons. Several still are missing.
It had been a pretty normal Sasturday for JIM HANSON, 86. The retired Union Pacific railroader was up and out early for his daily 12-block walk.
"I've had my breakfast and my walk, and now I'm gonna go take a nap," he told a friend in the lobby as he headed toward the stairs to his second-floor room.
For CHI CHEUNG CHAN, 28, and his wife, KIT YEEFU CHAN, 25, it started out as a normal Saturday. Chan took his wife, a pharmacist to work at Brown Drug at 9 a.m. Before going over to the library, he walked MRS. CHAN inside.
The CHANS, both Chinese, lived in Lincoln at 4321 Holdrege St. CHAN was a graduate student at the University of Nebraska Dentistry College.
For barber LOUIS HRUSKA, it also was a routine morning. He opened his shop to get ready for the heavier-than-usual business a barber has on Saturday.
MAYME SPENCE, retired owner of SPENCE'S Dress Shop, was up early as usual and inside her room.
MILDRED SWEARINGEN, wife of Fremont Presbyterian minister J. W. SWEARINGEN, was downtown at a meeting of the PEO. With her was EUNICE SEXTON, wife of School Supt. LLOYD SEXTON. FOr them, despite the meeting, Saturday was pretty routine.
Stopped for Coffee.
No one knows for sure what JOHN and RUTH DELASHMUTT were doing that morning in their small hotel room.
CARSON REBBE, 75, a farmer from Hooper, stopped by the coffee shop to pass the time while his wife was getting her hair done.
But the routine of Saturday morning was interrupted for three gas workers when they were called downtown to check the detection of gas fumes. JIM WALLINE, 47, and CARL STRONG, 44, met their boss, BILL VAN METER, 56, at the Pathfinder hotel.
For the rest of Fremont, a routine January Saturday morning ended at 9:30, just after one of the gas workers said to get everyone out of the Pathfinder.
A day later, it appeared that most of Fremont was passing away another routine Sunday. But after going to church, many wandered downtown to get news of people still missing.
Police said six to eight more are still unaccounted for. VAN METER is among those missing, and all rescue officials say there is no hope of anyone living inside the hotel.
And despite Sunday morning services, a dozen ministers continued to take turns manning an emergency center set up Saturday to tell families of the fates of victims.
At the hospital, the emergency was over, but visitors flowed in to talk with victims, all of whom are in at least satisfactory condition.
In a garage turned makeshift morgue a block from the hotel, a team of specialists ended a second day of identifying the dead through dental records and personal effects.
The CHANS' families are coming to Nebraska Monday evening from Denver, San Jose, Calif., and New York. The two had been married for a year and a half. An NU Dentistry College spokeswoman said CHAN lived in Lincoln about seven years.
Lincoln Evening Journal Nebraska 1976-01-12