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Natural gas leak fueled explosion that flattened South Side building: officials

A buildup of natural gas, leaking from a basement pipe or appliance, is believed to have fueled an explosion that reduced a South Side three-flat to rubble Sunday night, authorities said. Two women and a pit bull named Tigger were rescued from the debris.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said Tuesday the natural gas leak likely happened in the basement of the building near 58th Street and Calumet Avenue in the Washington Park neighborhood. He said corroded pipes or a leaky appliance could have allowed the gas to escape, build up and eventually ignite.

But he did not rule out the possibility that “somebody messing” with the home’s natural gas system could have caused the leak. Langford said the fire department will likely never know precisely what caused the leak, which came from pipes or an appliance that were the owner’s responsibility to maintain — not Peoples Gas’.

Within hours of the Sunday evening explosion, investigators were searching for a cause, using heavy equipment to sift through debris overnight. Investigators eventually honed in on a gas leak as the likely cause of the explosion. Langford said this was based on evidence gathered from the wreckage, as well as witness statements.

A friend of one building resident, Georgia Brooks, 78, said the fact that anyone survived the explosion was “nothing short of a miracle.”

On Sunday, Brooks returned home from a grocery store and smelled gas, her family said. Moments later the gas exploded, sending Brooks, a pit bull named Tigger and a another woman who lived upstairs tumbling as the walls caved in. The blast shook buildings blocks away and crushed nearby cars under a cascade of debris.

Firefighters pulled Brooks from the rubble. In addition to a crushed vertebra in her lower back, she suffered cuts and and bruises. A family member said Brooks was awaiting surgery.