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December 26, 2000

Blast levels Kitchener home; one dead Cause unknown: Neighbourhood evacuated after massive explosion

Michael Higgins National Post

An elderly man was killed when a house was completely destroyed by a mysterious explosion in Kitchener yesterday. Fire and police services evacuated an entire residential street as a precaution after the blast.

Some of the families were believed to be settling down to Christmas dinner and others were enjoying the festive season when the explosion shattered the late afternoon.

Windows in nearby homes were broken and families in immediately neighbouring houses were warned not to go back into their homes last night until a proper structural investigation had been done on the properties.

The blast happened on Heather Avenue just after 5 p.m.

The house was torn apart, leaving just "a hole in the ground," said Acting Staff Sgt. Dennis Klages.

''It was a massive explosion. It totally demolished the house. It is now under investigation by the fire marshall.

"An elderly man was located but at this time we have no idea about how he is related to the home."

Sgt. Klages said a post mortem examination would be conducted on the man today. He said next of kin had still to be informed.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately known, but gas was at first feared to be a possibility. The entire street was evacuated, said Staff Sgt. Klages.

City buses were called in to accommodate the residents, while the fire service carried out initial investigations and the street's gas supply was turned off.

Staff Sgt. Klages said: "When the fire department arrived on the scene, with such massive destruction it was thought gas might be a factor and people were evacuated as a precaution.

"We had city buses come on the scene so we could keep the people warm. The entire street was evacuated for safety reasons.

"We don't know what the cause of the fire was. The fire marshall is going through the scene and it has been closed off. Tomorrow the fire department will go in and try to find what caused the explosion."

After a few hours, people were allowed to return to their homes except for those immediately adjoining the damaged property.

It was feared the adjoining homes might have been damaged in the blast and investigations were to take place to make sure they were structurally sound.

''We're only talking about two or three homes but they have been put up by relatives for the night."

-- Rachel Gibson (, December 26, 2000


Ottawa Citizen

Daughter devastated after father killed in severe Kitchener house explosion

KITCHENER, Ont. (CP) - Vija Jhamandas of Edmonton only wanted to say hello to her father on Christmas Day but the phone at his Kitchener bungalow just kept ringing. She tried a neighbour and family friend, Herta Lember, and it was a phone call Lember won't soon forget. "She said 'I've been trying to call Daddy all day but no one answers, is something wrong with Daddy?' " remembers Lember. "I knew, but I didn't want to tell her."

Her father, Janis (John) Waivods, 87, died at 5 p.m. on Monday when an explosion ripped through his home in a quiet residential neighbourhood.

The residence was completely destroyed and several adjoining homes were damaged. No one else was injured in the blast.

When Jhamandas called Lember, the house where her father lived alone was nothing more than a pile of rubble, cordoned off by police tape and being observed with great interest by dozens of spectators despite the sub-zero weather.

"It's very sad," said Lember. "He was our friend for more than 40 years."

Jhamandas, a mother of three, was the only child of John and Elvira Waivods. Her mother died 10 years ago. She was close to her father, a retired machinist, and had visited in October when she found him to be doing well.

"Everything seemed fine," she said. "He was cooking, the house was clean. He took care of himself."

Police said Jhamandas will travel to Kitchener this week to identify the body, which underwent severe trauma during the explosion.

Other homes in the neighbourhood had to be evacuated after the blast and two houses remained vacant late Tuesday.

"It appears that everyone is back in except two homes beside (Waivods' house) which are severely damaged, they are more damaged than we originally thought," said Sgt. Dennis Klages of the Waterloo Regional Police.

"We will have to get structural engineers in to see if it's safe for the residents to return."

On Tuesday nearby neighbours were still reeling from the Christmas Day blast.

"All of a sudden there was a great big boom," said Ed Leacy, who lives on the street. "The kids were in the front room . . . the windows shattered, the kids were crying."

The cause of the explosion remained unknown Tuesday.

"The fire marshal has come up with some things to be analyzed and is looking at a number of different items, they don't know yet for sure what happened," Klages said.

Lember said she remembers warning Waivods to reconsider when he decided to convert to gas heat about eight years ago. She feared it was unsafe.

But Kitchener Utilities, which supplied the natural gas for Waivods' home, said they found no problem with the system.

"A preliminary investigation suggests the failure of the natural gas system was not the source of the problem," said Dwayne Quinn, director of utilities for the city.

Quinn said investigators were on the scene Monday night, checking the gas lines on surrounding properties.

"Even though the pipes leading from his house were fine we checked around the area to make sure gas lines didn't leak back to his house or that the explosion had caused other problems," Quinn said.

Although Quinn is skeptical natural gas was the cause of the explosion, he said he'll wait for the fire marshal's report to confirm it.

When the explosion tore through the neighbourhood, Lember had been lying down.

"I thought it was either a bomb or the gas," she remembers. "Then I started to see police. I called Janis but it just kept beeping, then it was always busy. I didn't know what was wrong."

Shortly after, a neighbour came over to tell the Lembers their friend had died.

"I had always said to call us if he needs help, but he said 'I'm okay, I can look after myself,' " Lember said. "His daughter invited him to live with her but he didn't want to go."

-- Rachel Gibson (, December 26, 2000.


Thursday, December 28, 2000

House blast ruled accident, not suicide

KITCHENER, Ont. (CP) - An explosion that ripped through a bungalow killing an 87-year-old man on Christmas Day has been ruled a "death by misadventure" by police, although fire officials had said earlier it was a suicide.

The coroner in this southern Ontario city ruled Janis (John) Waivods died Dec. 25 of carbon monoxide poisoning prior to the 5 p.m. explosion.

Earlier Wednesday, Rick Pedersen, chief fire prevention officer with the Kitchener Fire Department, said the incident was a successful suicide bid.

The fire department determined the gas line to the 87-year-old's home was disconnected and then ignited.

Police refused to say whether they believe Waivods deliberately disconnected the gas line in a suicide bid or whether he might have been doing work around the house when something went terribly wrong.

"It was most likely the homeowner who did this but why he did it, we don't know. Did he do it deliberately, or did he do it to repair something?" said Const. Carol McKay of Waterloo police.

The widower's home was destroyed and seven other houses were damaged in the blast. Nearby homes were evacuated after the late afternoon explosion.

One adjacent home is structurally unsafe and remained uninhabitable Wednesday.

No one else was injured in the explosion.

Tools were found by the line, said Sgt. Roger Goulard of the force's Kitchener detective branch.

The gas coming out of the pipe was ignited causing a fire in the basement, Goulard said. The fire used up all the oxygen in the house, and Waivods to die of carbon-monoxide poisoning, he said.

Then as the house cooled, the furnace clicked in and an electrical spark from the furnace ignited the thousands of cubic metres of gas in the house, Goulard said.

"And there is just one big boom," he said. "It is like a bomb."

Waivods, a retired machinist who lived alone, was found amid the debris scattered on his property. Police suspect Waivods was upstairs on the second floor when he died.

Waivod's daughter, Vija Jhamandas of Edmonton, learned of the explosion when she tried to call her father on Christmas Day. When she didn't get an answer, she called a neighbour, who told her about the explosion.

Jhamandas said she's still undecided about whether or not her father committed suicide.

"I really don't know," she said. "I don't see any reason why he would do something like that."

She was expected to travel to Kitchener this week to identify the body.

Police do not suspect foul play and are not investigating the incident.

-- Rachel Gibson (, December 28, 2000.

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