GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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January 25, 2009

Resident 'critical' in Eastern Ave. explosion; nearby gas leak found

'I've never seen anything like that': Neighbors spring into action after blast

VIDEO: Charlie Foster talks about what happened moments after the explosion 

VIDEO: Neighbors have been complaining since Dec. 26, 2008 of gas fumes in the area

Click here to watch raw footage of the aftermath

Click here to view a photo slideshow of rescue workers during the aftermath

 A powerful explosion near the site of where a gas leak was later discovered rocked an East Gloucester neighborhood yesterday morning, blowing up an Eastern Avenue home, badly damaging houses on both sides and seriously injuring the leveled house's occupant, a longtime city police officer.

Patrolman Wayne Sargent, 57, who resided at 76 Eastern Ave. with his dog and maintained the property to Garden Club award-winning standards, was assisted out of the wreckage by a neighbor and relative. Sargent was taken by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

A Mass. General spokesperson and city Police Lt. Joseph Aiello said last night that Sargent was in critical condition. The nature of his injuries were not revealed, but Mayor Carolyn Kirk announced at a 5 p.m. news conference that "we expect a full recovery."

National Grid, which according to police and residents had been working in the neighborhood for more than a month searching for the source of a persistent gas smell, found a gas leak under the street opposite the still-smouldering remains of Sargent's celebrated property, and eliminated it by late afternoon, according to John Higgins, the utility's operation commander on the scene.

The cause of the explosion was uncertain, with the state fire marshal's office scheduled to arrive this morning to begin an investigation. Two other leaks, however, were also found, Higgins announced at a meeting of emergency offices and responders in the mayor's office. But he said they were venting to the air, and the leaks could not be considered dangerous.

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