DALLAS - A young girl was killed and several people were hurt in a natural gas explosion at a house in northwest Dallas Friday morning. Neighbors were also asked to evacuate the area.
The explosion happened around 6:30 a.m. at a home on Espanola Drive. It's in a neighborhood near Marsh Lane and Webb Chapel Road, just north of Love Field and Bachman Lake.
Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans confirmed the family that lived in the home was still inside when the explosion happened. 12-year-old Linda Michelle Rogers was killed, who went by Michellita. Four other people inside were also injured.
The force of the explosion was so strong bricks were blown off the front of the house. Neighbors said they heard and felt it from several blocks away.
"I was in the kitchen. My dad was reading the paper. We just heard a loud BOOM. I opened the door and saw the house like that," said Janet Gonzales, a neighbor.
Seven blocks around the home are evacuated because firefighters say there have been two other gas-related fires in the same area this week. Nearby Foster Elementary School was also evacuated, where more than 700 students are being moved to other schools.
Evans says a gas leak is to blame for the Friday explosion. He confirmed there were two other gas-related fires at homes on Durango Drive. On Wednesday, one person was injured in a small fire. Then on Thursday, another person was injured in a kitchen fire. That person said a flare came out of the stove while cooking. The fire department doesn't think it's a coincidence.
"We do suspect that this, with it being so close and being on the same exact block number, that they are most likely all related as far as the gas is concerned," Evans said.
Juan Armilla says Atmos employees came to his house at 3655 Durango a street over from Espanola and better than a block away Thursday night to check for a gas leak.
"I guess the leak wasn't inside the yard because they said they was gonna be working outside," Armilla said. "They were probably there until like two in the morning."
And roughly four hours later, the explosion happened.
In a statement, Atmos said it is working with firefighters to determine the exact cause of the explosion and secure the area.
"First and foremost our thoughts are with the family affected by today's incident. We want to express our sincere concern," said Jennifer Altieri, a spokeswoman for the company. "As part of normal operating procedures when Atmos Energy is called to the scene of an incident, we work closely with our first responders to make the area safe and then conduct leak surveys in the area to identify if gas was involved. At this point, it is too soon to tell what caused this incident."
Neighbors said they were concerned it could happen again.
"Like I said, I have two people in wheelchairs that we take care of. My sister is going crazy. We got dogs. You just never know," Bruno Valdez said.
Atmos also released a separate statement saying, "We are deeply saddened by the death of the young girl and again express our sincere heartfelt condolences to her family."
Michellita was an aspiring cheerleader who was part of the Falcons Cheer Elite team. Her coach, Latoya Gibson says she got a call Friday morning form a parent who couldn't get in touch with Michellita's family.
"She said, 'I really think something's wrong because it's about a street over from my house, and it's Michellita's street," the coach recalled.
Gibson was told the family was at Parkland Hospital. She rushed there and learned Michellita did not make it.
"Michellita was joyful. When she wasn't there, you knew she wasn't there," her coach said. "You would try to fill that energy, but her spirit was so bright."
The team was given an option to skip their competition on Friday, but they chose instead to compete in Michellita's honor.
DART buses were brought in to help the evacuated neighbors get out of the cold rain until they could find a place to stay overnight. There is no word yet on when the evacuated residents can return home.