Deadly explosion levels building

Erika Ward, Editor-in-Chief

 On Nov. 16, just before 6 p.m., a natural gas explosion brought an entire building to rubble, killing one Ameren worker, injuring 12 other people and causing damage to buildings in the area.

 Fulton County Coroner Steve Hines confirmed with the Western Courier that the Ameren worker who was fatally injured in the explosion was Arturo Silva Jr., 38, of Mapleton, Illinois.  He was a part of the four-person crew that was responding to a gas leak, which was caused by a third party contractor.

 “We send our deepest sympathies to (Silva’s) family and loved ones and ask that everyone please keep them, the community of Canton, and our Ameren Illinois Family in your thoughts,” reads a post on Ameren Illinois’s Facebook page.

 On Wednesday night just after 9 p.m., Director of Community and Public Relations for Ameren, Tucker Kennedy, addressed the media to explain what is known about the situation so far.

 “Just after 5:30 p.m., a gas crew from Ameren Illinois responded to reports that a third party contractor had compromised a gas service line at 45 East Side Square,” Kennedy said.  “The crew squeezed off the gas and was in the process of making repairs when the explosion occurred.”

 Kennedy went on to express condolences on behalf of Ameren Illinois.

 “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of our fallen worker,” Kennedy said.  “The Ameren family lost one of its own and we are deeply saddened.  This is a close brotherhood and our family is hurting.  Please keep them in your thoughts.”

 Many citizens in the surrounding areas reported being able to hear the explosion from great distances, including as far as Pekin in some cases, while others reported being able to see the explosion from St. David, a
neighboring village.

 “I was laying on the couch, watching TV right around the corner and it rocked me like someone hit my house with a truck,” said Jerled Stuber, a resident in the Canton area.  “I jumped and looked out the window to see what was going on, and there was a big puff of smoke that looked like a mushroom cloud.  (I) threw the shoes on and ran up here and saw people panic and glass everywhere, so we decided to pick a few things up in garbage cans.”

 Local surveillance footage also showed clips of glass windows shattering and entire buildings shaking during the explosion.  Citizens in the area also said the smell of natural gas was very strong in the area before and after the explosion.

 According to an update from the Fulton County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency (ESDA), the Informational Damage Assessment Teams completed their search of the buildings affected in the area and found three of the buildings to be what is considered a “Level 7,” or a total loss.  One other building was a “Level 6,” meaning it is currently uninhabitable and requires “extensive repairs,” while 48 other buildings are considered “Level 5,” meaning few repairs are needed.

State Representative of the 91st District Mike Unes also addressed the public at the press conference at Graham Hospital in Canton on Thursday afternoon, saying that the community will band together to get through this tragedy, referencing previous disasters that have also struck the area, such as an F3 tornado in 1975 that killed two people and a fire that damaged the interior just two years after the initial opening of the Opera House.

“They’re going to overcome this,” Unes said. “After each one of those trials and tribulations, they became stronger, and I know the city is going to be stronger, even after this.  It’s so wonderful and overwhelming to see so many amounts of people wanting to come in and help.”

Unes went on to explain that the rebuild of the town square won’t happen over night, and that the volunteerism and desire to help needs to stay up so the town can rebuild.

Canton Police Chief Rick Nichols said in a press conference Thursday afternoon that the Macomb Police Department (MPD) and the Western Illinois University Office of Public Safety (OPS) were among the other agencies offering aid.

“We were asked about the possibility of someone staffing the Command Post in the Command Center, so we had a supervisor respond there this morning to assist them with their Command Post,” said Scott Harris, the Director of Public Safety.  “I think that they called through ILEAS, which is the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System for resources.”

MPD Chief Curt Barker said the department also had an officer on scene in Canton earlier on Thursday.

“One of my lieutenants was asked to come over there today, and he went over and looked at things and gave some advice and different suggestions,” Barker said.  “He’s returned back, so we don’t have anybody on scene now.”

Barker also said MPD heard about the need for assistance through ILEAS.

“Being a part of that, all my resources are in a database that are accessible to emergencies that are close to them,” Barker said.  “We have all signed agreements saying that if they call us for help, we will assist.”

Canton Mayor Jeff Fritz addressed the media, saying that even though there are upcoming weather concerns, he is confident that the town will persevere and rebuild.

“The one thing I do know, is that this is a resilient community,” Fritz said.  “As (Unes) said, they do stick together, work together and are very giving.  We will move forward.”

-Visit to view a full photo gallery of images from the scene of the incident.