THOMPSON — An 81-year-old man managed to walk out of his house after it exploded around him Saturday morning, scattering a debris field into nearby pastures and rattling houses miles away.
Elmo Gilchrist was preparing to cook some sausage around 7:25, when the house blew up as he went to light the gas stove, his son-in-law Darryl Callen said at the scene of the blast at 5688 Burris Road in Amite County.
The explosion splintered Gilchrist’s two-bedroom, woodframe house, driving boards of all shapes and sizes — from 2-by-6’s to chipboard paneling — like javelins into the ground and sending pieces of tin roofing and the electrical service wire into the top of a nearby pine tree. Bits of white insulation littered the roadside as far as half a mile away on Thompson Road, and the front door went sailing into a ditch across the street.
The blast blew out nearly all of the windows to Gilchrist’s minivan, which looked as if it had been through a war zone.
Callen, who lives next door, said he’s amazed his father-in-law survived.
“I was waiting to see a body bag, and there he is, the firemen are walking him out of the back of the thing and sitting him on the back of the fire truck,” he said, adding that Gilchrist was concerned about finding his cellphone as first responders tended to him.
Callen said he was on his way to work when he stopped to get coffee at Crossroads Grocery and heard about the explosion. Then someone told him it was at the corner of Dunaway and Burris roads — where Gilchrist lives. Callen said he dashed over to the scene, and he’s been stunned ever since.
While Gilchrist was up and walking soon after the explosion, officials are worried about his prognosis. Callen said his father-in-law suffered burns to his head and arms. He said smoke inhalation is another concern of doctors.
“He’s in surgery right now, and one of the main concerns is what did he inhale?” Callen said just before noon Saturday.
Gilchrist, who lived alone in the house, is being treated at Merit Health Center in Jackson, which has a burn unit, Callen said.
Amite County Civil Defense Director Grant McCurley said first responders found Gilchrist still inside his house, calling for help as he sat in his motorized scooter beneath the debris.
“He was starting to show symptoms of shock upon arrival,” McCurley said. “He was alert and he knew what was going on.”
McCurley said officials from the State Fire Marshal’s Office will investigate the explosion, which he speculated was caused by a propane leak.
“From the looks of it, I’m assuming it’s going to be a propane explosion inside the house,” he said. “With that amount of force, it’s indicative of a propane explosion.”
McCurley said the blast leveled the house and what was left of the kitchen quickly caught fire.
“It was leveled when we got there,” he said. “There were no walls standing when I got on scene and there was a thick concentration of fire all throughout the structure. The majority of it was all on fire.”
The explosion also damaged an adjacent rental house.
After tending to Gilchrist and the fire, McCurley said he and other first responders were awestruck as they assessed the destruction.
“After we got the fire extinguished, we got to looking around,” he said. “The blast was so strong. ... There was a 2-by-6 about 40 foot up in the air in a pine tree.
“There was some serious force in this blast. It was a significant blast. I found debris, I know, over a half a mile from the house.”
McCurley said he first received a report of the incident from a county supervisor, who initially thought a pipeline had blown up.
Neighbors who paraded past the blown-out structure also reported hearing and feeling the impact, some as far away as East Fork.
“I live about five miles from here and I’ve got picture frames in my house cocked over it shook my house so bad,” said Cliff White, who lives about five miles away.
Callen said he heard reports of the explosion registering on the Richter scale, but McCurley said that probably had more to do with an earthquake that occurred in Oklahoma at 7:02 a.m., the effects of which were felt several states away, including in some parts of Mississippi.