COLUMBIA — A neighbor burst into an elderly couple’s East Campus home after it exploded Friday and tried to free a retired MU professor from the burning debris.
John “Jack” Kennedy, of 1809 Cliff Drive, was coming home from a trip to the supermarket when he was halted by the shock wave from the explosion of a house two doors down, said his wife Nancy Kennedy.
“I was bringing in my groceries, and I hardly got to the step,” Nancy Kennedy said. “If you’ve ever lived in a war zone, you would know what it was.”
Her 80-year-old husband rushed past the homes that separated his from 308 McNab Drive, where Merna and Carl Sneed lived.
Merna Sneed, 84, had been blown out of the house. Merna’s husband, Carl, 87, was trapped between the first floor and the basement, Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Sapp said. The two-story home’s first floor had partially collapsed because of the heat and fire.
Chest deep in debris, Carl Sneed reached out and struggled to grasp Jack Kennedy’s hand, Kennedy told investigators.
“(Kennedy) tried a couple of times before the heat of the fire forced him to back away for his own personal safety,” Sapp said. “We’ll probably never know the exact condition (Carl Sneed) was in.”
Columbia firefighters arrived at about 11:20 a.m., several minutes after Kennedy had been pushed out of the house by the intense heat. He suffered minor burns on his scalp.
Columbia firefighters Delwyn Duncan and Jeff Kaufmann went around to the back of the house and found Merna Sneed trapped underneath debris. They dragged her from the rubble and rushed her to University Hospital.
The heat was so intense it burned the back of firefighter Ben Trutken’s ears, Sapp said. He was treated for minor injuries and returned to duty.
The Columbia Fire Department extinguished the fire about an hour after the rescue. Investigators found the body of Carl Sneed in the basement of the house.
“We’re saddened we couldn’t get to Carl earlier,” Sapp said.
The department planned to nominate Kennedy for the Citizen’s Heroism Award, Sapp said.
He said it was the first explosion of this magnitude in Columbia since the 1970s. The cause of the explosion was still under investigation.
Rescue efforts were hampered by the narrowness of the street. Firefighters struggled to move all of their equipment to the scene but resolved the problem within minutes, Sapp said.
They used an engine ladder to spray water over the top of a house on the corner of McNab and Cliff drives, while firefighters and another department truck moved down the street.