Official: Gas leak preceded North Carolina house explosion

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Leaking gas led to the fire and house explosion in North Carolina that killed a woman and left a man with life-threatening injuries, authorities said Wednesday.

Fire Marshal Jonathan Leonard of the Charlotte Fire Department told a news conference that he couldn’t provide any additional details about the cause, other than to say it appeared accidental. Leonard said the investigation into the explosion that leveled the home is continuing.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police identified the woman in a report released Wednesday as Rania Karam, 58.

Charlotte Fire Department Battalion Chief Matt Westover told reporters that it was her husband, Jebran Karam, who called 911 about the explosion and helped firefighters once they arrived. After being pulled from the rubble, Jebran Karam was taken by helicopter to a hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries.

Westover said Jebran Karam told firefighters he had smelled an odor before Tuesday’s blast.

“He was able to communicate with us during the entire incident,” Westover said. “He was able to help guide us and specify where he was located within the structure and was able to let us know that he could hear us operating outside, which let us know that we were close.”

Westover said it was seven hours after firefighters arrived that Rania Karam’s body was found with her husband’s guidance.

“He was found near the rear of the house in a stairwell,” Westover said. “Mrs. Karam was found several rooms away, not the opposite side of the house but a decent distance” from her husband.

Matt Roberts, chief executive of Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley, West Virginia, told WSOC-TV that Jebran Karam is a hospital cardiologist who bought the home with his wife in the upscale Ballantyne subdivision south of downtown Charlotte in 2015.

Area resident Paul Aarons told The Charlotte Observer his entire house shook and he heard a massive boom. The blast seemed so close that he thought someone was driving into his garage.

Aerial coverage showed wood scattered at the site and debris blown into the adjacent street as well as into some surrounding trees and nearby yards. Firefighters used a ladder truck to get closer to the flames that erupted from the explosion.

Westover said nearby homes had significant damage but others further away were safe. An emergency medical services agency, Charlotte Medic, told news outlets that two people living in surrounding homes were being evaluated for injuries that weren’t considered life-threatening.

Westover said more than 80 firefighters went to the scene and seven had to be treated for dehydration. Reports indicated firefighters arrived in full gear but later were down to their T-shirts as they worked Tuesday at the site in scorching summer heat.