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Errand at Family Dollar saves couple and infant from wicked fireball

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A couple living in a camper with an infant happened to run an errand just before a gas line explosion near their Sissonville home.

Ashley Weeks and Billy Mayhue are the parents of Wyatt Mayhue, who was born Sept. 25.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ashley decided to run to the Family Dollar near Sissonville High School. At the last minute, Billy said he and the baby would come along.

A few minutes after their departure, a NiSource-owned Columbia Gas Transmission line exploded near Teresa Lane in Sissonville, shooting flames 100 feet into the air. The explosion that occurred about 12:40 p.m. Tuesday destroyed some homes, damaged others, and scorched an area of Interstate 77.

Area residents are saying it is miraculous that no one was killed or seriously injured. 

Ashley and her family went to the shelter set up in the Multipurpose Community Center at Aldersgate United Methodist Church where they found assistance. The baby can only eat a specific kind of formula that happened to be stocked in the community food pantry located inside the church.   

"We don't know what is left of our home," Ashley said on Wednesday afternoon. 

She said a relative relayed that it is still standing but scorched and a cord running from the camper to an electric pole was melted. She said someone from the Red Cross would go with her to survey the extent of damages. Then she broke down into tears.

Stephanie and Brad Bennett, co-pastors of Aldersgate United Methodist, said the shelter served as an overnight spot for six people who were unable to reach their homes. Others were lodged in area hotels by officials from the gas company.

One couple that came to the shelter because they could not reach their home also had health issues. The wife had just had eye surgery and had to remain flat on her back. The husband, a diabetic, was in need of his medication. His prescription was called in to Rite Aid in Sissonville and a gas company representative took him to pick it up.

Red Cross officials as well as NiSource representatives were on site to offer assistance at the shelter.

A woman who suffered smoke inhalation showed up at the shelter and was immediately transferred to an area hospital.

The shelter also served as a meeting place for media, including local and out of state. On Wednesday morning reporters stopped there who were from Pittsburgh and Youngstown.

Some residents of Pine Valley Mobile Home Park, located off White Oak Drive, said they were without power for six hours. Some went to the shelter for food, warmth and water.

"I wanted to keep the kids warm and get something in their stomachs," said Lynette Burdette. "I have a 9-year-old boy. We went to the church on the hill."

Her daughter-in-law, Bryanne Petron, lives next door.

"We were home when the power went out," Petron said. "Me and my two children and my nephew. My children are 4 and 6 and both have upper respiratory infections. My nephew is three months old. We went up there (to the shelter) and had spaghetti and salad."

After the explosion, there were some who were simply stuck where they were.

"I couldn't get home," said Russell Cavender, meat cutter at Sav-A-Lot, located past the explosion site on state Route 21.  

He spent some extra time at work where the power was out for several hours. Eventually, he took a meandering route to reach his home on Legg Fork.

Chevalier Mayes, communications manager for NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage, said representatives have reached out to residents impacted by the explosion.

"We have people on the ground providing people with temporary housing and anything they need," she said.

She said 30 people have been housed in area hotels. "We are providing taxi rides, food, furniture, anything you would need in daily life," she said. "We are trying to meet needs. We believe we have met all the residents who may have been affected. We have reached out to assess needs and help in any way we can."


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