Detroit fire official: No body found in house explosion debris

Detroit — Fire officials found no body for a man thought to have been buried under a house that exploded Friday, they said.

Detroit fire commissioner Dave Fornell said investigators searched through the rubble left by the home for hours but didn't find anyone. He said firefighters initially thought a 65-year-old man was trapped under the debris, but later determined he may have simply walked away after the blast.

"We're changing the status from 'deceased' to 'missing,'" Fornell said earlier Friday. "We were basing our initial information on what people who were in the house told us."

He also said earlier that he hadn't ruled out the possibility the man was alive and buried under the debris of the flattened house that once stood in the 6800 block of Archdale on Detroit's west side — "but I don't think so," he said.

Crews at the scene of a house that exploded on Detroit's west side early Friday, March 20, 2020.

"If they haven't found him by now, and he's under there, he'd have the whole house on top of him, and he probably wouldn't survive that," Fornell said. "I can't completely rule it out, but it's highly unlikely."

Two people were injured in the blast. A 46-year-old woman who was severely burned told investigators the house exploded after she lit a crack pipe. Crews picked the woman up down the street from the house, Fornell said.

A 42-year-old man was found lying in the home's backyard; he's listed in serious condition with burns and abrasions.

Fire officials initially thought the 65-year-old man had died in the explosion, and shortly after responding to the call at about 4 a.m., crews began digging for his body.

But Fornell said witnesses may gave given investigators bad information.

"They were supposedly smoking crack," he said. "The woman was found half a block down the street, and the (42-year-old) man was in the backyard. So we don't know what they were doing.

"After we got our initial information (that the 65-year-old man was buried in the rubble), I talked to the arson people, and they said the (42-year-old man) who told them that was in and out of consciousness, and if he was smoking crack, was he impaired?" Fornell said.

"He did say (the 65-year-old man) was in the house, but was he there when the explosion happened? At this point, we're more comfortable saying he's just missing, instead of deceased."

Fornell said once crews remove debris from the explosion site, they'll try to locate the gas leak.

Abraham Alagi, who lives across the street from the house that exploded, said he thought a bomb had gone off. He said he was at the back of his home where the bedrooms are located when it happened.

"It was really loud," the 25-year-old Wayne State University student said. "At the same time I could hear glass shattering. Then I realized that was coming from my front windows."

Alagi said he's lived in his home for about nine months and never seen anything like it. He also said he didn't know the people who lived in the house where the explosion happened very well.

"It was scary," he said. "At first I thought something happened at my house. Then I came to look and saw the house across the street on fire. It was completely flamed up."

Alagi said he would wait until there was more sunlight to further inspect his home. He also said he had already contacted his insurance company to make a claim.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez