Gov. William Donald Schaefer today was to tour the section of Perryville devastated by a propane explosion and fire Saturday. The blast killed one woman, injured 24 other people and left more than 80 residents homeless.
"The citizens of Perryville are dealing with a very traumatic ordeal," Schaefer said. "I'm impressed by the way Cecil County officials and the entire community of Perryville have responded to this disaster."
In addition such agencies as the State Police and fire marshal's office that normally respond to such emergencies, the governor said, the Department of Human Resources is assisting victims with counseling and the Department of Aging is helping senior citizens.
The explosion that rocked the tiny community taught Chris Culler, 17, something about himself and his neighbors.
"It takes a catastrophe to bring a town together," said Culler, after watching the way residents responded to the explosion.
Culler and others cited examples of community cohesiveness in the Cecil town -- residents preparing food and drink for neighbors and fire officials, helping the injured and assisting officials as they tried to keep order in the aftermath of the blast.
The explosion occurred about 8:55 a.m. and destroyed a dry cleaners, a submarine sandwich shop and an apartment building. It damaged several other buildings and homes along Broad Street.
Found dead in her apartment more than an hour after the explosion was Susan Monsoon, 43, who, along with her husband, William, lived near what had been a pizza shop that also was destroyed.
State Police said Mrs. Monsoon, a clerk for the Harford County Aegis newspaper, received serious burns and was found on the floor next to a breakfast bar.
Police said William Monsoon escaped with minor injuries and attempted to rescue his wife, but he was unable to enter the rubble.
Police said about 100 people were left homeless, and the fire marshal estimated damage to be as much as $10 million, with that figure expected to go even higher as assessment of the damage continues.
Despite the damage, many townspeople say they consider themselves lucky.
Trooper Stanley Wilson was the first law official on the scene after the explosion. He said Broad Street is usually very active, with people standing in front of the sub shop or on their nearby porches. "Fortunately," he said, "they weren't out here [Saturday]."
Lisa Taylor lives in an apartment across the street from the disaster site and said she was relieved that her 5-year-old daughter, Adrienne, slept in the living room Friday night, instead of in her bedroom, which received the worst damage.
"All the stuff from her ceiling fell," Taylor said. "The tiles, metal, glass from her window. I was just so glad I had her on the couch."
Mayor Oakley Sumpter said that he is saddened by the death of one woman but added that he shares the town's relief that there were no more fatalities.
Norman Bannon, the first assistant chief of Perryville's volunteer fire department, said the explosion was caused by a propane gas leak in the sandwich shop.
William Ackerman, 33, was in Connecticut visiting his parents when he saw a television report of the explosion that leveled his dry-cleaning store.
"It was still standing when I left on Wednesday morning," Ackerman said in disbelief as he looked at the remnants of his store. "And this is what I come back to."
Dale Ziegler, owner of the three-story apartment building where the dead woman was found, said he thought his newly refurbished brick-and-siding building was sturdy enough to endure even the most powerful of forces.
"I thought that it would withstand a hurricane," Ziegler said. "But the force of the explosion was tremendous."
Many residents said they thought they were experiencing an earthquake or that a high-speed train on tracks nearby had derailed.
"It reminds me of one of those tornadoes I saw out in Kansas," said Claude Thomas, 51, who lives a few blocks from the blast.
Sumpter said that both state and county governments have been helpful, offering security, food and debris removal. The American Red Cross paid for lodging for people left homeless by the explosion. Officials still have not confirmed how many were left homeless.
Of Gov. Schaefer's visit today, Taylor said, "We're hoping he gives some sort of [additional] aid, something so these people who lost everything can get something back."
Deputy State Fire Marshal Bob Thomas said the original damage estimate of $2 million was raised to $10 million yesterday after building inspectors condemned two more buildings and homes. Officials had no firm estimate on how many people have been left homeless.
Taylor said Broad Street was the busiest she had ever seen as cars flowed by steadily and onlookers from other towns crowded on sidewalks to take snapshots or pictures with video cameras. Some Perryville residents said they were offended by those actions which they considered discourteous and insensitive.
Terry Constien, a deputy building inspector on the scene yesterday, said most of the buildings affected by Saturday's explosion had been condemned. "At this point, everything looks real bad," he said.
Access to the buildings will be restricted until the owners get certified engineers or their insurance companies to determine the extent of the damage, he said. That process, he added, is usually handled in no more than 30 days.
Town officials toured the devastated area yesterday to determine whether the area should be rebuilt.
Town Commissioner Sarah H. Marley said she believes it should be rebuilt. "I think it's a real opportunity for our town to do some revitalization," she said.
A few of the residents said they occasionally smelled faint odors of gas, but were hesitant to attribute them to the propane gas tanks believed to have caused the explosion.
"I smelled gas once in a while," said Richard Gill, 53, who lives directly across from the rubble of the collapsed buildings. "But I thought it was from a cook-out or something. That's why I didn't pay no attention to it."
"When we got there it was like a . . . war zone," Bannon said. "People were lying in the street, things were still falling from the sky. . . ."
Many residents stood in awe yesterday as they looked over the piles of rubble on the narrow street.