- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

SNOW HILL, Md. Even though the odor of propane gas hung dangerously heavy in the air, 87-year-old Sadie Dryden steadfastly refused to leave her home, ignoring the pleadings of worried friends and emergency workers.
"She was sitting on the porch," said her son-in-law Wayne Young, 62. "I told her to go outside and get some fresh air."
Seconds later, a powerful explosion lifted the small Cape Cod-style home in a working-class neighborhood in this town of 2,600 off its foundation.
The blast Sunday evening killed a utility company worker and left Mrs. Dryden and 16 other persons injured, 13 of them members of the Snow Hill Volunteer Fire Department.
"I seen a bunch of firefighters laying on the ground," said Snow Hill police Officer Chris McLain, who went to the house after receiving a call from Mr. Young and immediately sent for firefighters after he opened the basement door and was almost overcome by gas fumes. "Some were up walking around covered with blood."
With dazed firefighters tending to themselves and their injured colleagues, Mr. McLain, 30, grabbed a fire hose and began knocking down flames.
"I could hear Miss Sadie saying, 'Help me, help me,'" he said. "I asked where she was, and I seen her hand come through the window. The wall was laying on top of her. She kept on saying, 'Help me, help me, I'm on fire.'"
After Officer McLain extinguished the flames, Mr. Young and Snow Hill police Officer Kenneth Parr pulled Mrs. Dryden from the wreckage.
Mrs. Dryden, who was listed in satisfactory condition yesterday at Peninsula Regional Medical Center, suffered minor injuries.
Six firefighters were taken to the burn unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore.
Firefighters Howard Stevens, William Heiser Jr., Warren Bevard and Ray Wooten were listed in critical condition at Bayview yesterday, said nurse supervisor Lisa Melin. Firefighter Jim Phillips was listed in serious condition and firefighter Jack Moyer was in "guarded" condition a step above serious, she said.
Eight others were treated and released from Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, a hospital spokeswoman said. Firefighters Scott Cylc and Eddie Smith, who were leaving the basement of the house just as it exploded, were listed in satisfactory condition.
Ignatius Daniel Saienni, 38, of Stockton, an employee of Eastern Shore Gas Co., was killed in the blast.
Police Chief Michael McDermott said Mr. Saienni and another Eastern Shore employee were investigating another reported gas leak in the area, where heavy rains flooded homes and roadways over the weekend, when Mr. Saienni heard of a problem at Mrs. Dryden's house.
"He walked into [Mrs. Drydens] house, and that's the last I saw of him," said Maibelle Lee, 38, a neighbor who was on the porch with Mrs. Dryden, trying unsuccessfully to persuade her to leave.
Investigators with the Worcester County Fire Marshal's Office, the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were on the scene yesterday but did not immediately determine the exact cause of the blast.
Steve Ashcraft, general manager of Eastern Shore Gas, refused to speculate on the cause of the explosion. He referred questions to Ocean City lawyer Mark Cropper, who did not immediately return telephone messages left by the Associated Press.
Chief McDermott said 12 hours of heavy rain that left the ground saturated and caused localized flooding might have disrupted the underground gas lines serving much of Snow Hill.
Gas leaks also were found at two other homes in the area, including one two blocks away, he said.
Yesterday afternoon, a heavy-equipment operator began knocking down the remains of the house so Mr. Young and other relatives could retrieve some of Mrs. Dryden's belongings. They carted away antique chairs, photographs, books and clothing as bystanders gawked at the wreckage and wondered how more people weren't killed.

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