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Family relieved house flattened by blast was unoccupied

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Susan Rawlings initially had no idea what caused the loud boom that rocked her Sissonville apartment Tuesday afternoon.

"I was scared to look outside at first," she said. "I thought either God was coming back or a tornado was coming through."

When she finally mustered the courage, Rawlings saw flames shooting into the sky. She got in her car and started toward the blast. As she drew closer, she realized the explosion might have occurred near her aunt and uncle's house at 7506 Sissonville Drive.

Police had the road blocked near D.J. and Shirley McMillion's home, but an officer let Rawlings close enough to get a photo.

"It's flattened," she said. "The house was still smoking."

Her cellphone photo shows the remains of the house, with just a few pieces of the brick walls remaining. Smoke is still rising from the rubble, and there appears to be a small fire near the front of the home.

Rawlings found out from Shirley's Facebook page that no one was in the home at the time of the blast.

"It's just scary. I'm relieved to know my family wasn't home," she said.

Amy McMillion moved back into her parents' home last August, along with her three children. Her sister, Angie McNeely, and her two children also were living in the house.

"It was a big house. Not now, but it was," Amy said.

No one was home at the time of the explosion, although Amy said on a normal day both her mom and dad would have been.

Her mother, Shirley, is a surgical nurse at Charleston Area Medical Center's Memorial Hospital and usually works the night shift.

Any other day, she would have spent the early afternoon at home asleep. Her father, D.J., is retired and usually spends his days at the house.

But on Tuesday, Shirley and D.J. decided to go to work with Angie for a Christmas dinner.

Amy and Angie's children were in school at the time of the blast.

Amy said the explosion also destroyed her father's truck, which was parked in the driveway. She hadn't seen the damage firsthand but heard the truck was blown yards away.

"I just know it's not parked there anymore," she said.

D.J. and Shirley had lived in the house for about a decade. Amy didn't know where the family would stay the night. They were considering going to their other sister's home, or to Amy's Teays Valley home, which is up for sale.

According to officials, the explosion and its resulting fires destroyed five homes.

Bill Mayhue, 50, and his family, live at the mouth of Derricks Creek Road near where the explosion occurred. He, his wife, Ashley, and their 2-month-old son, Wyatt, were at the Family Dollar when the pipeline exploded.

"I'd say we left the house about five minutes before it happened," he said.

They tried to make it back home, but authorities already had blocked the road. Instead, Mayhue and his family were directed to Aldersgate Methodist Church, where a shelter had been set up.

The family saw a wall of flames rising into the sky as they attempted to make it back to their house, he said.

They planned to stay in a hotel in Mink Shoals that was being paid for by Columbia Gas, he said.

"My wife is at the store picking up things for the baby," Mayhue said. "We didn't have a lot of diapers and stuff in our bag when we left the house."

Mayhue was unsure what became of his home and did not know when he would be able to return.

"I've never in my life experienced anything like this," he said. "It's a scary moment."

Mayhue wasn't alone at Aldersgate. About 10 people had arrived at the shelter by early Tuesday evening.

The shelter was set up to house 40 people, said Pat Taylor, shelter coordinator. Meals were being served by 6 p.m.

"We have no way of knowing right now how many people will be coming in tonight," he said.

Taylor was at the church when the pipeline exploded. Although he was about three miles away, he heard it very clearly.

"I looked north and I could see the flames," he said.

Pamalee Fisher, 82, came to Aldersgate because electricity was knocked out at her home and she couldn't operate her oxygen tank.

She said she was at her White Oak Drive home across the hill from the explosion when it occurred.

"I could hear the explosion and see the flames across the hill," Fisher said.   

Rita Cummings, 59, lives in the Pocatalico Village Apartments and said the explosion rattled the pictures on her walls and shook the ornaments on her Christmas tree. She ran outside, saw the flames and evacuated.

Trevor Goins, who also lives in Pocatalico Village, said the blast sounded like an airplane crash.  

"It sounded like turbine engines," he said.

Jessica Pritt, 29, of Nitro, has relatives in Sissonville and drove into the area about 20 minutes after the explosion.

She said all she could hear when she got out of her car was a constant roar.

"You couldn't hear anything because the sound was so loud and the ground was like an earthquake," Pritt said. "It was like something you would see (at) the end of the world."

Writers Paul Fallon and Ry Rivard contributed to this report.



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