Neighbors describe chaos after Columbia blast

- Residents of a Howard County townhouse community say they are lucky to be alive after a massive explosion destroyed one home and caused flames to tear into several other homes.

The explosion ripped apart a townhouse around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on Sleepy Horse Lane in Columbia and sent debris across the street. A total of six units had to be condemned.

Neighbor Junnette Nyawara was sitting on her couch with her daughter and says she was nearly blown across her own living room.

“We just had this big bang, and our windows just crushed in, the blinds fell down, the pictures were falling, and we thought it was an earthquake -- and as we tried to stabilize ourselves because it rocked us off the sofa,” Nyawara said.

Howard County fire officials say Baltimore Gas and Electric was called to the neighborhood before the blast after a report of a strong smell of gas. A worker had already started telling people to evacuate when the explosion occurred.

No one was home in the unit where the explosion happened, but neighbor Derek O’Neil was home asleep and says he had to run for his life.

"I just came into the world out of a haze. My dresser was completely knocked over, all the drawers were out. Everything was on the ground. I had no idea what was going on, but I heard sirens outside. Someone was screaming from my first floor, ‘Is there anybody up there?’” said O’Neil.

Gas crews dotted the neighborhood on Thursday. A BGE spokesperson confirmed a service call prior to the blast, but would only add that they are cooperating with fire investigators to determine a cause. A worker for the company was treated at the hospital and released.

The American Red Cross is assisting families affected by the explosion.

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