Neighbor smelled gas just before explosion

Saturday, March 15, 2008 | 10:01 p.m. CDT; updated 9:16 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Daryl Keller smelled gas about 10 minutes before the explosion at 308 McNab Drive.

She smelled gas immediately when she arrived at her home — just 30 feet from the blast — at about 11:05 a.m. Friday, she said.


Fire investigators have not determined the cause of the explosion, Columbia Fire Battalion Chief Steve Sapp said. Following phone calls from the public, the department offered these basic safety tips on natural gas. • If you smell natural gas in a building, leave and call 911 from a phone outside the building. Do not turn on lights or appliances because this action may cause enough spark for ignition of the gas. • If you smell natural gas outside, call 911 from an area where you no longer smell the gas. • Have appliances that use natural gas checked by qualified service personnel to ensure they are working correctly. • Have qualified personnel check the plumbing system inside your home to ensure that it is in good condition, that fittings and joints are tight, and that piping has not suffered any physical damage. • Natural gas has a distinctive smell. Gas companies add the chemical Mercaptan to the gas to give it an odor most people describe as rotten eggs. If you smell gas, leave the building and call 911 to allow emergency personnel to investigate.

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The cause of the blast that killed Carl Sneed, 87, and severely injured his wife, Merna, 84, remained unknown Saturday and fire officials said the investigation would take time. Natural gas was one possibility that investigators were looking into.

AmerenUE adds a chemical to the odorless natural gas to make it smell like rotten eggs.

Mike Cleary, a spokesman for AmerenUE, said the last time maintenance workers visited the home was in 2002 for a problem with the automatic meter.

Cleary said AmerenUE had not received many calls for service from the East Campus neighborhood. Of the calls AmerenUE received, few were about gas leaks, he said.

The company had checked its response logs and had found that the last call from the neighborhood was on March 4 to report a natural gas outage on Cliff Drive, Cleary said.

Before that, a service truck was sent to the neighborhood on Jan. 9 to check on a report of a meter outage.

Most of the homes along winding Cliff Drive, near the site of the explosion, are older — some dating back to the 1940s.

According to the Boone County Assessor’s Web site, the Sneed’s three-bedroom, one-bathroom house was built in 1956. It had a total of 1,196 square feet.

Cleary said AmerenUE’s responsibilities do not include checking or repairing heating or gas equipment in a customer’s home.

“Our responsibility is making sure that the gas reaches the home and the meter is working,” he said. “From our standpoint, an older house might have older equipment, but our responsibility is the main line.”

Linda Sneed, one of the couple’s daughters, said she visited the house on Thursday and did not smell any natural gas.

Cleary said investigators found a gas leak in a pipe at the residence after the explosion. However, it may have been caused by the blast, he said.

The main line was not damaged by the explosion, said Fred Luetkemeier, supervisor of AmerenUE’s gas operations in Columbia. Workers shut off gas to the site of the Sneed’s home.

“The rest of the system is up and running,” he said.

Keller said she has contacted AmerenUE since the explosion and asked them if they could aid her and her boyfriend in clearing their yard of shards of glass and rubble blown out of the house.

“We have glass embedded into our siding,” she said. “We have tons of debris in our yard.”

Cleary said AmerenUE is not responsible for cleaning the mess.

“Lets get the results here,” Cleary said about the investigation. “We checked the gas mains and the service lines and found nothing that would pose a threat to other homes in the area.”

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