Two explosions destroyed the Earling Standard Service station, located on the south side of Railway Street near downtown Earling on Monday morning.
A number of nearby buildings along Main Street had windows broken out by the explosion.
Two individuals were taken to the hospital for medical care. One was Dan Grote, a co-owner of the service station. The other was Don Bruck. Both were taken by ambulance to Myrtue Medical Center in Harlan. Grote was released and Bruck was life flighted to a hospital in Omaha.
Shelby County Sheriff Neil Gross said Bruck’s condition was listed as stable and that he should be released within the next few days.
The first explosion occurred at about 8:25 a.m. and the second one, which produced a fireball, occurred at about 8:45 a.m., Gross said.
He continued that the state fire marshal’s office is investigating the fire and no cause had been determined yet.
Kathleen Larson, who lives about a block west of the Earling Standard Service station but on the north side of Railway Street, was near her kitchen sink, looking out the window, when the first explosion occurred.
“I thought that it was a bomb,” she said.
The explosion blew the kitchen curtains off but did not harm the windows.
“I could see things, tile, roofing, junk, flying high in the air,” she said. “I knew it was the gas station.”
Larson said she first tried her landline but it was out so she called 911 on her cell phone and got the dispatch center for nearby Harrison County.
She said she was crying and upset, but she got dressed and carried a couple towels outside in case she came upon anyone who was bleeding.
She was outside when a second explosion occurred.
“It was a huge fireball, about 100 feet in the air,” Larson said, although adding she is not a good judge of distances. “We were standing up the street and had to back up. We could feel the heat.”
Larson said her son, who carries the mail, had been at Earling Standard Service earlier in the morning, getting a tire fixed.
Members of Larson’s family are friends with the owners of service station. Along with Grote, the other co-owner is Keith Schaben. Larson said she heard that Grote had been injured but that he was going to be OK. She continued to worry about Schaben until she saw him standing on the sidewalk.
“He hadn’t been to work yet, so I gave him a big hug. I was so glad he was OK,” Larson said.
Julia Comstock lives farther west on the Railway Street or Highway 37, also referred to locally as the Earling Road.
She said the first explosion shook her house, which was too far away to have any windows broken.
“It was scary,” she said of the first explosion. “I honestly thought a tree had fallen on the house.”
She ran toward the gas station and saw two men – Grote and Bruck - climb out the back of the station and run to safety in a grassy area near the building.
Comstock said she was across Railway Street about halfway up from the Main Street intersection when the second explosion and fireball occurred. She had to retreat because of the heat.
Firefighters and equipment from Earling, Defiance, Irwin, Westphalia, Panama, Dunlap and Harlan responded to the scene.