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Neighbors return to site of house explosion in Moon; police find pot plants growing nearby

| Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 12:42 p.m.

Investigators combed through rubble on Sunday to find the cause of a home explosion in Moon that injured two men, damaged 18 buildings and allowed a surprising discovery of marijuana growing in a nearby house.

“It's like a 1,000-piece puzzle blown up in the air and scattered all around,” said Moon volunteer fire Chief John Scott. “You got to find all the pieces and put them back together.”

Neighbors and responders reported smelling natural gas at the time of the blast Saturday evening, and investigators are considering it as a possible source. Don Brucker, chief deputy fire marshal of Allegheny County, said his office might X-ray the valve positions on equipment such as the home's furnace, clothes dryer, water tank, stove and the main electrical panel to determine a cause of the explosion.

“This will be a lengthy investigation. It could be days into weeks,” he said.

Shawn Landa, 47, whose home on Charlton Heights Road exploded at 6:44 p.m. Saturday, was in serious condition in UPMC Mercy, an administrator at the Uptown hospital said. Investigators said he had second-degree burns on 12 percent of his body. Neighbors found him beneath debris in his front yard. He could not be reached for comment.

Alan Lisica, 61, who lives next door, was listed in fair condition in Mercy.

“I've got so many holes on me I couldn't tell you. (There are) splinters of glass all over me,” Lisica said by phone from his hospital bed.

Despite having a wall fall on him, Lisica called himself a “lucky” man.

“It didn't get me,” he said.

The damage to neighboring houses allowed police to make a surprising discovery when they saw a man trying to remove and hide mature marijuana plants. Moon police said they charged William Amend, 61, with drug charges because of what they found inside and outside his damaged home.

About 1 p.m. Sunday, officers pulled out at least 15 plants, 12 rifles, a pistol, ammunition and equipment used to grow plants inside and outside. The odor of the plants wafted in the air as authorities put them on a tarp, wrapped them up and took them away.

Neighbors were surprised by the marijuana plants, but not by the guns because they said Amend is a hunter. Amend was awaiting arraignment on Sunday night.

Daylight revealed the extent of destruction at Landa's house. A 6-foot section of a white picket fence stood in his yard. The house was leveled, and a bulldozer cleared wood, bricks and broken glass. Debris dangled from homes along the street.

Greeting cards from family, including Landa's estranged wife Sheri, littered the lawns of neighbors. Court records show his wife has a protection-from-abuse order against Landa, which she accused him of violating in April. She could not be reached.

Lisica said he told authorities how he thought the explosion happened but declined to elaborate. He said he could barely remember the incident except that he was reading a newspaper on his computer when the wall caved in on him.

Police declined to discuss what Lisica told them or to discuss the investigation.

The blast happened a day after a house exploded less than 30 miles away in Follansbee, W.Va. That explosion killed a girl living inside. Neighbors reported smelling natural gas moments before that blast Friday morning.

In Moon, Rachel Ford, a spokeswoman for Columbia Gas, said the utility found no leaks between its main line and the house. She said gas pipes in the house were converted to plastic in 1989.

Gas crews shut off service to the neighborhood as officials evacuated about 90 people from 30 nearby homes on Saturday night. They allowed neighbors to return on Sunday as officials examined 18 damaged homes. Ten had minor damage, and four were uninhabitable, Scott said.

Neighbor Rick Ruffing said some of the windows in his home next to Lisica's are blown out.

An 8-foot hole gapes in the southern wall, and siding is rippled.

Ruffing and his wife, Claudia, were attending a wedding reception when their son in South Dakota called them about the blast. If Ruffing had not attended the reception, he said he usually would have been watching the baseball playoffs or a football game on the other side of the wall that was blown out.

“The Lord took care of me,” he said.

Staff photographer Keith Hodan contributed to this report. Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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