Deacon inside church during gas explosion suffers only minor injuries

HAMMOND, Ind. -- A gas explosion destroyed a church annex in Northwest Indiana Monday night, and even though a deacon was inside the building at the time, he suffered only minor injuries, fire officials said. Just 90 minutes later, the church would have been hosting a prayer service, with a lot more people inside.

The deacon had entered the building owned by Bethel Congregational Church to prepare for a prayer service, and he smelled gas right away and started looking for the source, fire officials say. After checking the kitchen stove, he was on his way to check the furnace room when the building exploded. The blast tossed concrete blocks into neighboring homes and rattled houses over a block away.

"I felt the house violently shaking, and when I came out, Iwalked over here, Isaw the building up in flames," said witness Steven Wiles.

The deacon was blown across the room and down some stairs, burned and bruised, but was standing across the street when fire crews arrived. They say to call him lucky doesn’t begin to cover it.

"I was shocked that he was actually joking with the guys when they took him to the hospital," said Hammond Fire Department Chief Jeff Smith.

Firefighters were still battling the blaze Monday night, but perhaps by the grace of god, there was only one injury.