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June 11, 2014 05:00 PM

Dell Rapids Explosion

Dell Rapids, Sd

The fire is out, but a closeup look at the SUV at the center of the explosion gives us an idea of just how hot it burned.  The engine is melted to the point that it's almost unrecognizable.

People who heard a natural gas explosion Tuesday in Dell Rapids are amazed that their neighbor is alive. 

They say a 40-foot wall of flames shot up right around his stalled car.

Sharon Mitchell was painting her next door neighbor's house when a sound caught her attention.

"I heard a big blast or a big boom. It sounded like when you light your stove only 100 times louder," Mitchell said.

Mitchell was shocked to learn that her "across the alley neighbor" was in the car that was burning up.

"Very relieved when I saw him, I had to give him a big hug," Mitchell said.

When she saw him Wednesday morning, she asked the question everyone wanted to know.

"I asked him if he was scared. He said he was scared. The other person who was working said, 'You have to get out of there,' and so he just ran out of there and he told me he hadn't run for a long time, so I'm glad that he did," Mitchell said.

Investigators are still looking into the events that led up to the explosion. They know that a subcontractor for Golden West Communications hit a gas line Tuesday morning and that a car drove right over the site.

"He unfortunately stalled right over the gas leak. When he started the ignition, this is what caused a wall of, as he describes it, a wall of flames five feet tall all around his vehicle," Capt. Paul Niedringhaus said.

Another neighbor who heard the blast says he smelled the gas first and seconds later it went off.

"I could see the whole street on fire. When it initially blew, fire was seeping up through the cracks and the asphalt was on fire," Henry Zwart said.

When you look at the burned out shell of the car, it's hard to believe the driver walked away with only singed hair and a few blisters.

"Amazingly he wasn't hurt any worse and was not killed. He's a very lucky person to be alive after what took place yesterday,"Niedringhaus said.

"You think about how that whole situation could have turned out differently. We're just thankful that everybody was ok," Mitchell said.

MidAmerican Energy operates the line. A spokeswoman says the damaged pipe is a 4-inch steel metro gas line that runs down the road and feeds the service lines that go into homes.

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