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S.W. Side home explodes; couple critically injured

Firefighters at the scene early this morning of a 2-11 alarm fire for a gas explosion that destroyed the home at 6659 S. Keating in Chicago. Two people were seriously injured and adjacent homes were heavily damaged. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media

Two people were critically injured Sunday morning when an explosion and fire destroyed their Southwest Side house and heavily damaged the homes of their neighbors.

What had been a brick split-level house in the 6600 block of South Keating was a smoldering pile of rubble after firefighters extinguished the flames. Neighbors said the blast occurred about 6:30 a.m., hours after some noticed the odor of natural gas on the block.

A married couple in the home managed to escape but was severely burned, said witnesses and fire officials. The man and woman were taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn with second-degree burns, said a Fire Department spokesman.

A neighbor, Rudy Venegas, said the blast knocked him out of bed and that when he looked out his window, he could see debris raining down. The home across the street from his had collapsed on itself and “the whole roof was at eye level,” he said.

Another neighbor, 14-year-old Muhammad Hasam, said flames were whipped by the wind and flared higher than the tallest trees on the block.

Officials said the cause was under investigation. Peoples Gas crews were working at the scene.

Bonnie Johnson, a spokeswoman for the gas company, said service has been temporarily cut off to the homes on the west side of Keating from 6400 to 6700 south. She said crews were taking gas readings at every home in that area and were working to restore service Sunday evening.

Johnson said the utility’s records don’t indicate complaints about gas leaks in the area.

A cousin of one of the victims identified the people in the home at Pedro Sepulveda and Ana Oyola. Juanita Torres, who said she is a cousin of Oyola, said her relative is a staffer at a school. Sepulveda, Torres said, works at Midway Airport.

Jabar Wheatley, who lives in the home just to the north of the couple’s house, said he and his family were sleeping when there was a “very loud” explosion that broke glass in his home. “Everybody scrambled, thinking somebody was breaking in. We heard people next door screaming for help, then saw their roof on the ground. It was pretty traumatizing.”

Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said Sepulveda had been doing plumbing or sewer work in his basement at the time of the blast, but he did not know if the events were connected.

Neighborhood resident Dave Conner came outside when he heard the explosion, and the house was already leveled. There was a smoldering fire that burned for about five minutes but then the wind picked up and the blaze became an inferno, he said. That fire then spread to another house.

The house directly south of the flattened home had holes in the roof and blown-out windows, as did the building just north of it. The homes on either side of the home where the fire occurred are currently uninhabitable, according to Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford, who noted that the homes are brick and could be repaired.

Venegas said he kicked in the door of the home just to the south of the home that exploded and brought the elderly woman who lives there outside. That woman, who is 80 years old, refused medical attention, Langford said. Wheatley said he and his family were uninjured as well.

Neighbors said they smelled gas last night, and this morning the homeowner was apparently in the basement working on something when the explosion occurred.

A dog that lived in the destroyed home had not been seen, said neighbors and rescuers.