Davis Creek, WV Gas Explosion, Oct 1983


Davis Creek, W. Va. (UPI) -- A fiery natural gas explosion leveled a grocery store crowded with shoppers Monday, injuring at least 17 people, and police fear they will find bodies in the smoldering rubble.
State police trooper Rick Robinson said all 37 store employees were accounted for and authorities had not recovered any bodies as of 11 p.m., nine hours after the blast.
"We're expecting a couple (of deaths)," said Trooper R. D. Estep of the South Carleston detachment.
Robinson said the fact that employees were able to get back in to help victims made him hopeful that everyone got out.
State police trooper C. R. Martin, one of the first on the scene, about five miles southwest of Charleston, said the explosion occurred when fumes ignited from a gas leak. The fumes accumulated in the store, and many witnesses reported smelling gas in the area for several hours prior to the explosion.
"When I got there it was completely enveloped. Three walls were gone and part of the front wall," Martin said. "It was a tremendous explosion plus several small explosions."
"There were several injured. THey had burns and cuts and abrasions. One guy was cut pretty bad. His face was burned and cut."
Police ran license checks on cars in the parking lot to determine who was shopping, according to Robinson. Owners of two cars were not accounted for by evening.
Lt. R. E. Jones said he believed construction equipment in use across the street may have been responsible for the gas leak.
Store employee EDWARD MOORE, 19, South Charleston, his hands covered with blood and still trembling, said he had "smelled gas for two or three hours before the explosion."
"Everybody noticed it. It was real strong. The whole store was smelling," MOORE said.
The Foodland employee said he was knocked to the floor and then looked around only to see the store ablaze. He said he helped a few employees get outside and then went back inside to get his mother out successfully.
One witness described the explosion as an initial strong blast and then a vacuum effect, followed by a burst of fire. The fire went out quickly and then the building collapsed in front, the witness said.
A volunteer fireman said both the sides were blown out and the roof collapsed.
"I had just paid the cashier $18 and something for my groceries," said Shirley Starr, 53. "I hadn't even got my change when there was this explosion."
She said, "There were flames throughout the store, more toward the rear of the store. And there were little flames, about a foot high in the aisles, here and there, everywhere."
A spokeswoman for Thomas Memorial Hospital in nearby South Charleston said her hospital received seven of the injured. Four were admitted for treatment and the rest were released. A spokeswoman at Charleston Area Medical Center said 10 victims were brought to the hospital's Memorial Division, but only one was admitted.

The Post Standard Syracuse New York 1983-10-18