TYRONE — The person who died in the gas-leak explosion and fire in Tyrone Monday afternoon has been identified in a Facebook post by borough Mayor Bill Latchford.
Anna L. Hunsicker, 83, lived at 1306 Pennsylvania Ave., the address of the house that exploded and caught fire a few minutes later, according to Facebook posts by Latchford and the Tyrone Police Department.
The deceased, however, had not been identified as of Wednesday evening by the Blair County coroner’s office, which oversaw an autopsy that was to have been performed Tuesday in Windber.
“I knew her since I was a kid,” because she lived near his grandparents’ house in the borough, said Tyrone resident Gerald Robertson, who lives catty-corner from Hunsicker’s house.
She was “very Christian,” “very caring” and “very nice,” Robertson said Tuesday, while seated on a lawn chair next to his house as Peoples Natural Gas workers drilled holes in an attempt to vent gas that was trapped under concrete and asphalt.
Hunsicker would readily give permission for him to trim branches of a tree in her yard that sometimes grew out over the parking lot of the restaurant next door to her house, where he works, Robertson said.
Hunsicker lived with her grandson, who helped take care of her and took her to the doctor’s, Robertson said.
She had two dogs — which may have been schnauzers — that were her “most prized possessions,” said another close neighbor, Melody McMillen, on Wednesday.
When the dogs were on her porch, they would bark at passersby, a fault that Hunsicker would acknowledge, while adding, “they wouldn’t hurt anybody,” McMillen said.
Hunsicker was “sweet,” “loving” and good to her grandchildren, McMillen said.
“Nobody should have to die like that,” she said.
McMillen saw much of what happened Monday from her porch and a window inside.
It began with the explosion, which sounded to her like a “crunch,” she said.
She wondered whether a dump truck had spilled a load of gravel on Pennsylvania Avenue, where workers have been replacing a water line.
She went out to her porch and saw that Hunsicker’s house had collapsed, although the roof was intact, lying atop a pile of rubble, dust clouds escaping from the sides.
It seemed “like old wood, just busting,” McMillen said.
Soon, a wisp of smoke began twirling up from the fallen roof, she said.
She went to get her phone, and when she returned to the porch 30 to 60 seconds later, the entire house was ablaze.
“It pretty much all caught on fire at once,” she said.
She shared a picture on her phone that someone had sent to illustrate the conflagration.
She called 911, and the dispatcher asked for the location of the problem, which makes McMillen think she might have been the first caller to reach the dispatch center — although as she spoke with the dispatcher, the dispatcher said there were many other calls coming in.
Standing on the porch, the heat from the fire was intense enough to make her face burn, McMillen recalled.
Soon, she was in contact with her husband, Jamey, who works at a local plant, and he told her he was coming home immediately to get her out.
As she collected items in preparation for leaving, she told her grandson, Carter McMillen, 5, repeatedly, “Don’t leave my side, don’t leave my side,” she said.
And as she worked, she was aware of Hunsicker, not far away.
“All I could think,” McMillen said, “was she was in there.”
Her husband came home and they went to her father’s place, not waiting for the expected evacuation order — which came not long afterward.
The experience has rattled her.
The explosion could have happened to her own house, McMillen imagines.
It seems to have disturbed Carter, also, who has been talking about it incessantly — although he has insisted, “I’m OK, Grandma,” and “I wasn’t scared,” she said he told her.
Carter was on the porch with her Wednesday, drinking from a sippy cup.
She tugged one of his earlobes and tousled his short bangs.
They did not tell him Hunsicker had been in the house, she said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.
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