YARMOUTH – Robert MacKay lingered on his front lawn after retrieving his morning newspaper Tuesday, admiring a blooming garden. That’s when the home next door exploded.

Vernelle Dyer was in his living room, watching tennis on TV, when his house shook.

Mary Halsey, who had barely moved into her new condominium on Gables Drive, was asleep on an air mattress in her empty home when debris began to fly.

A day after their neighborhood was rocked by an explosion that killed 66-year-old Peter Corey and leveled his home, residents of Gables Drive were still grappling Wednesday with the extent of the destruction.

“I don’t think the shock has arrived yet,” said MacKay, who lived with his wife at 52 Gables Drive, the unit attached to 50 Gables Drive, which blew up shortly after 6 a.m. Tuesday.

MacKay, 83, said he got up early Tuesday and walked outside to get his newspaper. Then, the shock wave hit him.

“There was a tremendous boom and a tremendous flash of yellow and orange light,” he said.

He heard the sound of splintered lumber crashing to the ground. Flakes of gray insulation floated through the air.

“It was like it was a midwinter blizzard,” he said. “My only thought was, ‘My wife is in the house, and I have to call 911.'”

Rosemary MacKay was making coffee inside when she was thrown into the air, landed on her back and was hit by debris. She and her husband escaped with only scrapes and bruises.

Investigators have yet to pinpoint the source of the propane leak that likely fueled the blast. They are still searching for pieces of propane-powered appliances from 50 Gables Drive.

“We’re trying to gather all the pieces and put them together,” said Sgt. Joel Davis of the state Fire Marshal’s Office. He said investigators will know more once the state medical examiner completes an autopsy on Corey’s remains.

Some residents of condo units farther from 50 Gables Drive were allowed back into their homes Wednesday. Residents of units that were closer to the explosion were allowed in only to retrieve belongings.

Structural engineers who evaluated the homes marked those they deemed uninhabitable with brightly colored X’s. Engineers determined that the six units farthest from the blast were safe to reoccupy, while the other eight remained off limits, according to the fire department. At least three of the homes have been condemned.

The town plowed debris to the end of the dead-end street, piling it up like a snowbank after a storm.

“Not in a million years did I think something like this would happen on a quiet street in Yarmouth, Maine,” said Halsey, who is 63.

“People were walking around in a fog,” she said. “They were just numb.”

After her husband, Dennis, died in February, Halsey decided to move from York, Pa., to Yarmouth to be closer to her children and grandchildren. She closed on the purchase of her home only four days before the explosion.

She embraced Police Chief Michael Morrill when he and firefighters helped retrieve her few possessions: a couple of suitcases, toiletries, documents and, perhaps most important, the remains of her late husband.

Dyer, 94, who lives across the street from where Corey lived, was relieved to learn that his house suffered only minor damage and will not have to be torn down and rebuilt.

“I think we fared better than most people,” said his daughter, Dee Dyer-Reich, of her father’s home. “We’re happy that he is alive.”

On Wednesday afternoon, MacKay returned to the neighborhood to survey the remains of his home.

Rosemary MacKay recalled how, as they stood on their front lawn minutes after the explosion, her husband stared at their destroyed home.

“He said, ‘Rosemary, we’ve lost everything,'” she said. 

“I was looking at him and said, ‘No, we have each other.'”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@mainetoday.com