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7 dead, 6 injured in Iowa house explosion

RICHLAND, Iowa (AP) -- A powerful explosion destroyed a ranch-style house in this farming community, killing seven people and injuring six others who had gathered for a party.

The blast hurled the owner of the home, his 8-year-old daughter and two 10-year-old boys as far as 30 feet away. Two women managed to crawl from the rubble in the rear of the house, witnesses said."The three adults were dazed. The children, really, were in pretty good shape," said Renee Pfeifer, who was working at a convenience store when the house exploded Monday about 200 yards away.

The seven bodies were found in the basement of the home. Sheriff Ron George said the remains were taken to Des Moines for identification. Their identities were not released.

"It felt like an earthquake," said Thomas Hoekstra, a convenience store employee. "I looked around the corner and there were humongous flames. The whole house was caved in. I heard crying and moaning."

The State Fire Marshal's Office sifted through the mounds of bricks, wood and other debris that were still smoldering from the explosion. The cause of the blast was unknown.

"There's just a hole in the ground," George said.

The owner of the house, Jerry Usovsky, and the injured were taken to the burn unit at University Hospitals in Iowa City, about 50 miles northeast of Richland, a community of about 550 people.

The other survivors were identified as: Barb Dyer of Richland; Bev Gartner of Iowa City; Trey Gartner, 10, of Iowa City; Josh Kleinmeyer, 10, of Iowa City; and Marlena Usovsky, 8, of Richland.

Dyer and Bev Gartner were in critical condition Tuesday. Trey Gartner was in serious condition, and Kleinmeyer and Marlena Usovsky were still being evaluated.

Maria Reif, a neighbor and friend who lived two blocks away from the Usovsky family, said she had driven by the house about 15 minutes before it exploded.

"We've known them forever," she said. "They're wonderful people. He built that house himself and it was a beautiful home."

Reif said she was one of the first people on the scene and helped care for Jerry Usovsky. "He kept saying, 'The grill. The grill,' " she said, adding that there was a gas grill in the kitchen.

Another neighbor, Marian Dickinson, said her husband, Raymond, was in their garage when the blast jarred her house. "I thought, what on earth did he just do?," she said.