Sneed family salvages mementos after explosion

Saturday, March 15, 2008 | 9:56 p.m. CDT; updated 1:52 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Dan Kelly, son-in-law of Carl and Merna Sneed, examines a pair of old gloves found at the scene of the house explosion on McNab Drive. Kelly, from San Francisco, was sifting through the remains of the house with two other family members of the Sneed's.

COLUMBIA — Forty-five years ago, Pam, Penny and Linda Sneed played a game they called “cut-throat croquet” where McNab and Cliff drives meet. As young girls, they hit balls far above the treetops where houses now stand in the East Campus neighborhood.

“Nobody would come down here,” recalled Pam, now Pam Heath, 52, about the quiet street where she grew up.

Saturday, she and her fraternal twin, Penny Sneed, sorted through the wreckage of what remained of their parents’ home at 308 McNab Drive after it exploded Friday morning.

Carl Sneed, 87, the women’s father, was killed in the blast on Friday, despite heroic efforts by an elderly neighbor to save him.

Merna Sneed, 84, their mother, was listed in critical condition in University Hospital’s burn unit on Saturday. Penny Sneed said doctors told her that her mother has a 25 percent chance of survival.

The blast occurred at about 11:15 a.m. and was felt by residents blocks away. Flames shot to heights of 20 to 30 feet, and thick black smoke poured into the sky.

“It’s like something out of a science fiction movie,” Pam Heath said, looking at the rubble.

The causes of the explosion were still unknown, but natural gas was an early possibility, according to Columbia fire officials.

All of that doesn’t matter now, the family said. By Saturday afternoon, they were more concerned about salvaging something for their mother. Anything — books, spools of thread, magazines, curtains, bills — would do.

“(My mother) can look at it and see some of the past is still with her,” Pam Heath said.

“It feels very surreal because I see the things that I recognize because I grew up in this house,” Penny Sneed said.

The family raced to Columbia when they heard the news.

Penny Sneed and her husband, Dan Kelly, flew from San Francisco to Kansas City on Friday night. Heath met them at the airport. Linda Sneed, of Columbia, was already on the scene before the ambulances left.

“(We) drove from Kansas City straight to the hospital,” Penny Sneed said.

She walked toward flowers and a card left between bushes in front of where the house once stood. Before she picked up the card left by a family friend, she took off the work gloves she was using to shovel glass off the street and onto the property.

The investigators had left, but on Saturday the city hadn’t begun cleaning up. Nearby, neighbors cleaned their yards and picked up the remaining pieces of the house. Some fragments had been thrown 150 feet by the blast.

Dan Kelly threw a burned camera out of the basement. There is nothing remaining of the brick and wood house.

Nails and sharp glass litter the ground where the home once stood. Most of the family memorabilia was destroyed.

Heath said she found letters she had sent to her mother while she was working as an anesthesiologist at a hospital on a Navajo Indian Reservation.

“I just found some letters that I’d written talking about what it was like on the ‘res’,” Heath said.

She stood on top of some blown-out wooden siding next to the destroyed two-story home, a hat hiding her eyes and tears falling down her cheeks.

“We lived all our lives in this house,” she said. In a clear plastic bag, she held what remained: pots, a neck pillow and a few plates.

—Isabelle Roughol of the Missourian staff contributed to this report.

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