Body pulled from explosion rubble

WAYNE, Mich. (AP) — Workers pulled a man’s body from the wreckage of a furniture store leveled by a suspected natural gas explosion on Wednesday and were still looking for a missing woman, Wayne City Manager John Zech said.

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Responders found one body at the scene of a suspected natural gas explosion Wednesday at the William C. Franks Furniture store in Wayne, Mich., and were looking for a missing woman.

Rescuers found the body of James Zell, 64, of Westland, about 7:15 p.m., and authorities notified his family, Zech said. Zell was a salesman at the store, located about 15 miles from Detroit.

“We suspected somebody was in the office area. The dog hit on it,” said Shawn Bell, Wayne’s deputy fire marshal. Bell said as of 7:45 p.m., about 30 percent of the site had been searched.

Zech said the missing woman, a clerical worker for the store, was still missing but rescuers were believed to be close.

The massive blast about 9 a.m. at the William C. Franks Furniture store was felt miles away. The owner, Paul Franks, was pulled from the rubble earlier and was in critical condition at the University of Michigan’s medical center in Ann Arbor.

Police evacuated homes and businesses near the store in Wayne’s business district. Officials expected all residents would be able to return by the end of the day.

Groups of firefighters entered the building four and five at a time, scraping away at the rubble using long poles with hooks on the end. Bobcats and front-loaders moved around the area. Video footage shot from TV helicopters showed dozens of rescuers working on and around the remains of the store.

Consumers Energy spokeswoman Debra Dodd said the utility believed natural gas was involved. The company had received a call of a possible gas leak in the area several hours earlier and a worker had been trying to track down the source when the explosion took place, Dodd said.

The explosion had shattered windows at nearby businesses and reduced the one-story building to a pile of wood, crumbled drywall, twisted metal and broken bits of furniture. A bureau drawer could be seen.

“It sounded like a bomb,” said 47-year-old Lisa Johns, who said she was watching television in bed at her home nearby and rushed to the scene. “The power went off and came back on two or three minutes later.”

From beneath the mountain of debris, flames and spewing water, Jennifer Gietzen, 36, heard yelling and saw some movement.

Her husband, Chris Gietzen, and workers from the auto shop the couple manages then ran into the remains, climbed “10 feet high on a pile of twisted everything” and started digging after finding Paul Franks, the burned and struggling store owner.

“He was trying to pull himself out, but his leg was stuck,” Chris Gietzen, 35, told The Associated Press.

Zech said Franks’ father founded the high-end furniture store, which local residents said has been in business for more than 40 years. Mayor Al Haidous described the store as a “jewel” in the city.

Franks “treats everybody like family,” said store delivery worker Russell Brothers, 52, who said he has worked at the store for 18 years. He wasn’t scheduled to work Wednesday but came to see what happened after the explosion.

University of Michigan Hospital spokeswoman Christy Barnes said Franks was in critical condition at the Ann Arbor facility. His family issued a statement through the hospital expressing appreciation for the support and concern of the community.

“We are focused on his care and treatment at this time and we ask that you respect our privacy. Our concern extends to all others affected by today’s tragedy,” the statement said.

A person who was driving by the store when it exploded was in stable condition at Oakwood Annapolis Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Paula Rivera-Kerr said.

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