60 homes damaged by explosion in Calhoun

State and local fire investigators are somewhat confident  a natural gas leak is to blame. "But it's premature to say that is definitely the cause," according to the state's fire  marshal and insurance commissioner, John Oxendine.

A three-story home in the 100 block of Saddle Mountain Drive in Calhoun, which is 65 miles north of downtown Atlanta, exploded around 4 p.m. Thursday, forcing authorities to evacuate the entire neighborhood.

Fire officials said 18 neighboring houses suffered significant damage and most likely will be condemned. "Eighteen families are homeless," Oxendine said.

A total of 60 houses had some damage, officials said.

To illustrate the force of the blast, Oxendine said he found a canceled check that had been blown from a house in the neighborhood four miles away.

All of the houses in the neighborhood had all windows and doors blown out. There is no water, power and gas service to the area

State and local fire officials and inspectors as well as insurance company representatives will host a community meeting Saturday at 10 a.m. at the fire station at 400 Bellwood Road in Gordon County. The state has set up a help line -- 1-800656-2298.

Although some people suffered bumps and scrapes due to the force of the explosion, no serious injuries were reported, according to Calhoun Assistant Fire Chief Terry Mills said. Many people were not home when the house exploded.

"It’s a miracle that all of these people were gone when this happened," Mills said.

Footage of the explosion site recorded from above Gordon County by WSB-TV's News Chopper 2 showed only scattered shards of wood and plaster where a sizable house once stood.

"It just made your head hurt, it was so loud," Calhoun resident Linda Rogers told WSB-AM radio.

"I was sitting in the back yard in our swing, and all of a sudden we heard an awful boom," said Rogers, who lives about a mile from the source of the explosion. "The ground shook and my back door glass fell out ... neighbor's windows were broken out."

Donna Hooper said the explosion shook her mobile home, off of nearby Lover's Lane.

"It shook it like a bomb or something," Hooper told the AJC.

- Marcus K. Garner contributed to this report

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