Woman killed, man survives after explosion levels $1.2 million home in North Carolina

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A woman's body was recovered from the debris around 9 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Police identified her as 58-year-old Rania Karam. 

Dr. Jebran Karam, who is one of the owners of the home, was in the emergency room Tuesday night after being pulled from the pile of debris, the CEO of Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley, West Virginia told WSOC-TV.

>> On WSOCTV.com: Photos: House explodes in Ballantyne

Jebran Karam was flown to a hospital with serious injuries. Firefighters said he was conscious and alert after the explosion and was able to call 911 to help rescue crews find him.

Jebran Karam is a prominent cardiologist in West Virginia. The CEO of the hospital where he works said Karam is a tremendous cardiologist, physician and advocate for his patients. Jebran Karam and his wife purchased the home in Ballantyne in 2015.

Officials said they began receiving numerous 911 calls about the explosion and fire just before 2 p.m. Tuesday, including one from Jebran Karam, who was trapped inside the house. 

Firefighters got to the home along James Jack Lane off Ballantyne Commons Parkway within six minutes.

WSOC-TV's Chopper 9 flew over the scene around 2 p.m. and could see flames and smoke rising from the debris pile. Wood and insulation were scattered at the site, and debris was 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.

Jebran Karam, buried under the mountain of debris, was able to call 911, which helped first responders find him quickly and gave them details on where to find Rania Karam.

Later in the day, fire officials said they were switching to a more technical and methodical search, which meant they were searching at a slower pace due to loose debris. After Rania Karam's body was found, officials stopped their search.

Firefighters remained on scene overnight.

'The pressure was tremendous'

Debris from the explosion fell onto at least five nearby homes.

Neighbors and nearby businesses told WSOC-TV they felt the ground shake and heard a large boom.

“I just went out for a walk. I put my Beats on, and I walked right by the house. I walked on, maybe two minutes, and through my Beats, I heard a boom!” neighbor Lorie Porter said.

“Something told me to turn around and walk back, and I started turning around, and all the neighbors started to run out of their homes. And there’s debris right where I had walked, and the house was just leveled.”

Officials said several homes in the area were damaged and have been checked by firefighters. 

"I felt the floor shake below, and I was nervous we were having an explosion," neighbor Sue Blackman said.

"I can't imagine being right next to it, how much you could feel it because the pressure was tremendous,” neighbor Benjamin McNeill said.

MEDIC confirmed it sent multiple units to the scene, as well as its mass casualty bus. 

Fire officials said other homes in the vicinity of the explosion were safe, but those homes nearby received significant damage. MEDIC said two people living in surrounding homes were being evaluated for injuries that weren't considered life-threatening.

"I was sitting on my back patio, and I heard the boom, saw everything shake," neighbor Stephan Custer said. "I actually thought it was my house exploding. I thought the house was going to collapse and when I got far enough, I could see the plume of smoke across the street and I ran down there. I just saw it was totally obliterated."

More than 80 firefighters responded to the scene in the middle of a sweltering summer day.

“Hydration becomes an issue. We have the means to combat that. We have rehab resources here, providing water, plenty of shade. So now the challenge really becomes that our firefighters stay healthy as they continue to work,” CFD Battalion Chief Matt Westover said.

Temperatures were in the upper 90s, and heat index values soared to 106 degrees Tuesday afternoon. Seven firefighters were treated on scene with IVs for dehydration and later returned to their duties.

One firefighter was taken to a hospital to be treated for dehydration, officials said.

Many people in the community came together to help the dozens of firefighters and other first responders on the scene by bringing boxes of pizza, coolers of water and Gatorade, and watermelon. 

The cause of the explosion is unclear as the investigation continues, and officials with Piedmont Natural Gas and the Charlotte Fire Department said there is no timeline for when they will be able to determine exactly what happened.

The home was 6,300 square feet and worth more than $1.2 million, according to the county's property appraisal.

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