The Rapid City Journal interviewed a neighbor of the deceased and injured, Estelline Black Feather, 66. Ms. Black Feather said she was napping on her couch Thursday when her house shook and woke her up around 3 p.m. She said a massive explosion rocked her house in the East Ridge neighborhood about a half mile from the center of Pine Ridge.
The sound was so loud she thought her own propane tank had exploded. She ran outside and saw a duplex across the street blown apart. She said she saw people running and noted, “There was a real bad smell, like sulfur.”
Gas Explosion kills Four South Dakotans
The Journal reported that several neighborhood and tribal government sources identified an elderly couple who died as Owen Eagle Elk and Oletha Mousseaux. A tribal council member also told the Journal that two young females had also been killed.
Authorities with the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services and the Oglala Sioux Tribal police declined to talk or were unavailable to comment on the identities of the deceased and injured or the status of the investigation.
A day after the blast, the home appeared as though a tornado had hit it directly. A pile of debris was all that remained.
Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing owns the destroyed duplex and many other homes in the East Ridge neighborhood. The tribal government branch manages and maintains more than 1,200 rent-reduced residences on the reservation.
Gas Leak Caused?
In a phone interview with the Rapid City Journal Friday, the native group’s chief executive officer Paul Iron Cloud said OSLH maintenance crews received a phone call from someone within the duplex complaining about a gas smell about 20 minutes before the explosion. The Journal said Iron Cloud would not comment further on housing maintenance crews’ actions taken after the call.
Many OSLH homes in East Ridge feature propane tanks similar to the one that reportedly leaked and triggered the explosion. Richard Greenwald, who represents the Pine Ridge district on the tribal council, said, “I think the housing is going to take the steps to make sure all the furnaces and water heaters are running properly.”
The explosion had rumbled for three to five seconds in Carol Bad Bear’s estimation, shaking her home to its foundation. She followed Two Bulls and other men who ran up a hill to the decimated home.
Wading into the wreckage, Two Bulls and others lifted the collapsed roof to look for survivors. Instead they found four bodies: two teenage girls and an elderly couple.
“It was a bad sight to see,” said a visibly shaken neighbor, who declined to give his name. Wiping his eyes in the crook of his elbow, he added, “I couldn’t sleep last night. I keep thinking about it.”
All that remained of the duplex next day was splintered wood and twisted metal. One Oglala Sioux Tribal Police officer guarded the disaster while investigating agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives packed up and drove away. The ATF agents refused tot comment, revealing only that their agency routinely investigates such accidents on Native American reservations.
Beside the deaths of Owen Eagle Elk, Oletha Mousseaux and two younger girls, at least five other people were injured, according to Richard Greenwald, a tribal council member representing Pine Ridge Village. Three of those injured were flown to hospitals outside Pine Ridge. One man was taken to Rapid City, one young female to Sioux Falls, another young female to Scottsbluff, Neb.
Two others were being treated at the Pine Ridge Hospital, Mr. Greenwald told the Journal in a phone interview Thursday.