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1 dead, 4 injured in Maine home explosion

Feb. 12, 2013: Firefighters survey the remains of a fire after an explosion at a duplex apartment in Bath, Maine.AP/The Times Record

A two-family house exploded early Tuesday in this historic shipbuilding city on Maine's coast, killing one person, hurting four others and sending debris flying a quarter mile away, officials said.

Fire investigators were looking into whether a propane leak caused the single-story brick duplex to blow up and catch fire shortly after 5 a.m., said Sgt. Ken Grimes of the state fire marshal's office.

The powerful blast leveled the building, awakened neighbors and scattered debris around the neighborhood, with wood, insulation, shingles, clothing and other items landing in trees and on neighbors' cars and roofs. Windows were blown out of some homes, and some residents had to flee in their pajamas.

"I heard the boom and looked out the window," said Rashell Alfaisalawi, who lives less than 100 feet away. "There was no house and debris falling everywhere, and a fire."

She feared for her safety as clothes, wood, ashes, sticks and other debris came raining down.

Nearby, Lisa King said the blast knocked the picture frames off her walls and flung a door from the destroyed house into her building. "When I came outside, the duplex was gone," she said.

The home is in a development built during World War II to house shipyard workers, and propane is the heating source for all of the units, said Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland.

Police were working to recover a body from the debris Tuesday afternoon. Four people who were taken to hospitals included a man who lived in the duplex but wasn't home at the time of the blast, Grimes said. The man had to be taken away in an ambulance when he returned to find his home destroyed, he said.

Grimes said propane explosions have a specific blast pattern, and that investigators will work to determine whether a propane leak was responsible for the blast. Propane is heavier than air and tends to settle, so it could have accumulated in the home's crawl space before the explosion, he said.

Bath, which has a population of about 8,500 residents, is located about 35 miles northeast of Portland and is home to Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works.