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Family mourns baby killed in explosion

Synora Coleman, the 4-month-old killed in an explosion that leveled her family's northern Charlotte home Thursday night, was Sylvia Coleman's ninth grandchild – a smiling baby she called “the ninth wonder of the world.”

Synora's father, 25-year-old Syl'Myles Coleman, remained in critical condition Friday at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center's Burn Center. Her mother, 21-year-old Courtney Chambers, was in fair condition following surgery at Carolinas Medical Center.

State and local investigators worked Friday at the site of the home – now flattened debris – to determine what caused the explosion that was so forceful it shattered windows throughout the neighborhood.

Piedmont Natural Gas had no answers Friday and is still sorting out “conflicting reports,” spokesman David Trusty said.

A neighbor called 911 just after 6 p.m. Thursday to report a gas smell.

Charlotte firefighters responded and used one handheld detection meter but failed to find evidence of gas, Charlotte Fire Department spokesman Capt. Mark Basnight said. Firefighters say Piedmont workers responded to the call, too. Piedmont's Trusty declined to confirm that the company responded.

About 90 minutes after the gas leak call, the house at 418 Wellingford St. exploded.

Firefighters who responded to the earlier gas leak call had checked the home of that caller – 442 Wellingford – and also surveyed the properties on each side and across the street from that house. They didn't smell gas or detect it with the meter. They left after seven or eight minutes, Basnight said.

An emergency operator had noted that the 911 caller seemed very upset and possibly intoxicated. Basnight said the state of the caller wouldn't affect investigators' actions. “He called, so we responded.”

Sylvia Coleman had just moved to the Wellingford rental house with her granddaughter, son and his fiancée a week ago, she said.

Since then, they'd paid a gas deposit and were living without hot water while waiting for Piedmont to turn on their service, she said.

They'd been heating water for the baby's bath and showering at a relative's house, “trying to survive waiting on these people.”

Early Thursday afternoon, Coleman noticed a white truck across the street. She thought it might finally be the gas company but says no one knocked on her door.

About 4 p.m., Coleman says she smelled gas, both inside and outside the house. She left the house shortly afterward to go to work. She didn't report the smell.

Experts say natural gas explosions are rare. In 2007, 34 explosions in the U.S. resulted in death, serious injury or major property damage.

“It's a safe industry. It's an industry that's well-regulated,” said Lori Traweek, a senior vice president with the American Gas Association. Still, “every time there is an incident as tragic as the one that occurred (Thursday) evening, the industry in its entirety looks at it to see what we can do” to prevent future tragedies.

After Thursday's explosion, the utility shut off gas to the neighborhood and was checking area homes for leaks. About 50 customers were without service Friday. Piedmont said it was working with the local Red Cross, which is helping displaced residents.

Synora Coleman, the 4-month-old killed in an explosion that leveled her family's northern Charlotte home Thursday night, was Sylvia Coleman's ninth grandchild – a smiling baby she called “the ninth wonder of the world.”

Synora's father, 25-year-old Syl'Myles Coleman, remained in critical condition Friday at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center's Burn Center. Her mother, 21-year-old Courtney Chambers, was in fair condition following surgery at Carolinas Medical Center.

State and local investigators worked Friday at the site of the home – now flattened debris – to determine what caused the explosion that was so forceful it shattered windows throughout the neighborhood.

Piedmont Natural Gas had no answers Friday and is still sorting out “conflicting reports,” spokesman David Trusty said.

A neighbor called 911 just after 6 p.m. Thursday to report a gas smell.

Charlotte firefighters responded and used one handheld detection meter but failed to find evidence of gas, Charlotte Fire Department spokesman Capt. Mark Basnight said. Firefighters say Piedmont workers responded to the call, too. Piedmont's Trusty declined to confirm that the company responded.

About 90 minutes after the gas leak call, the house at 418 Wellingford St. exploded.

Firefighters who responded to the earlier gas leak call had checked the home of that caller – 442 Wellingford – and also surveyed the properties on each side and across the street from that house. They didn't smell gas or detect it with the meter. They left after seven or eight minutes, Basnight said.

An emergency operator had noted that the 911 caller seemed very upset and possibly intoxicated. Basnight said the state of the caller wouldn't affect investigators' actions. “He called, so we responded.”

Sylvia Coleman had just moved to the Wellingford rental house with her granddaughter, son and his fiancée a week ago, she said.

Since then, they'd paid a gas deposit and were living without hot water while waiting for Piedmont to turn on their service, she said.

They'd been heating water for the baby's bath and showering at a relative's house, “trying to survive waiting on these people.”

Early Thursday afternoon, Coleman noticed a white truck across the street. She thought it might finally be the gas company but says no one knocked on her door.

About 4 p.m., Coleman says she smelled gas, both inside and outside the house. She left the house shortly afterward to go to work. She didn't report the smell.

Experts say natural gas explosions are rare. In 2007, 34 explosions in the U.S. resulted in death, serious injury or major property damage.

“It's a safe industry. It's an industry that's well-regulated,” said Lori Traweek, a senior vice president with the American Gas Association. Still, “every time there is an incident as tragic as the one that occurred (Thursday) evening, the industry in its entirety looks at it to see what we can do” to prevent future tragedies.

After Thursday's explosion, the utility shut off gas to the neighborhood and was checking area homes for leaks. About 50 customers were without service Friday. Piedmont said it was working with the local Red Cross, which is helping displaced residents.

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