When an explosion in Wayne Sargent’s house rocked the Sunday morning calm of a tight Eastern Avenue neighborhood yesterday, one neighbor, especially, leapt into action.
Charlie and Marilyn Foster, who live nearby on Elizabeth Road, heard the explosion, which rattled doors, walls and windows as far as a quarter-mile away.
"We thought something happened to our house the blast was so bad," said Marilyn Foster, who is Wayne Sargent's second cousin. "We ran to the window and saw it was Wayne's house," she said. "There was nothing left of it."
The Fosters were getting ready to go to Beverly Hospital to visit their new grandson, Will Aaron.
"(Charlie) had on his white dress shirt and he just ran out of the house and across the street. He got up close to the house, and at that point the house was just crushed.
"There was a little bit of smoke, no big fire yet," Marilyn Foster recounted. "I'm watching through the window and he's hollering is anybody in there and (Wayne) said 'I'm in here.' So Charlie climbed in and found Wayne in the debris that came down into the basement.
"(Sargent) was trapped in there," she related. She said Sargent told her husband he thought he smelled something funny and he went to the basement to see what it was. Then the explosion happened.
After Charlie Foster had found Sargent in the debris, he couldn't get him to the street without help. He came out of the house and looked around and there were some people just standing around.
"He put his hand up and motioned for (bystanders) to come, and a young fellow went over," said Marilyn Foster. "Charlie ... couldn't get him down by himself because he couldn't lift him without the debris moving, and the young man helped to get him off the debris. By that time the flames were shooting up."
Bob Roland, who lives a couple of blocks away on Marina Drive, said his back yard is filled with ash and debris.
"It was like it was snowing," he said during a brief interview on Eastern Avenue on what was an otherwise clear day with temperatures around 11 degrees.
People who just happened to be passing by the house were absolutely stunned by what they saw.
Mia Landsvik was driving along Eastern Ave., just starting out on her way to work in Pride's Crossing around 8 a.m. yesterday when she saw the explosion occur.
"I was the car that almost got hit by the explosion. I saw it happen right in front of me," said Landsvik, 25. "If I was two seconds ahead, my car would have been blown across the street with the rest of the house. I could have been a part of the whole scene."
Landsvik had the presence of mind to shoot two photos of the scene from her cell phone. The first shows the house within seconds after the explosion; the second shows flames and the fire that erupted in the aftermath of the blast.
"I've never seen anything like that," Landsvik said. "I just hope (Sargent) is OK. I saw all of the neighbors running out of the house." While she couldn't drive forward because of the explosion, she said she knew she needed to get her car out of there to allow fire and rescue trucks in — and they arrived within minutes.
Bill Parsons of Rockport had been driving into Gloucester along Eastern Avenue just before the explosion, when his attention was caught by black smoke coming from the house.
"Usually I'm staring at the road right in front of me," Parsons said. "But I couldn't help but notice this horrendous black smoke coming out of the chimney. It was pure black smoke. It was so unusual that I kept wondering what could be burning to make smoke that black," he said. Parsons stopped in to Jeff's Variety, and — seconds later — he and the clerk, Debbie Bergmann, heard the explosion and felt the store shake. "I just grabbed the phone and ran out dialing 911," Bergmann said. "I said we have to go help somebody and when I saw the house, I froze.
"I've never seen anything like that," she added. "A man went to the back of the house and heard somebody. We realized there was somebody alive in there." David Swift, her boyfriend, and some other men also rushed to help. "Wayne was able to push himself up and the other guys were holding him up, and then walked him down to the driveway, and from there the police walked him to the ambulance," related Bergmann.
Parsons, who often sees Sargent at the variety store, described the policeman as a "very pleasant fellow."
He, like many others, said he's praying that Sargent will recover quickly.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org