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Residents of the Pratt-Willert neighborhood just east of downtown were shaken from their sleep early today when an explosion touched off by a natural gas leak heavily damaged a house that was under construction, fire officials said.

No one was living in the house at 295 Pratt St. east of Michigan Avenue when the blast occurred just after midnight, and no injuries were reported.

The explosion knocked down walls and sent shards of glass, wood and other debris in all directions. The loss was estimated at $70,000, officials said.

"I was in bed, in fact, and I just heard this great big boom," said Ula Lewis, who lives two doors away from the damaged house. "I thought it was an explosion in my house. It shook everything here."

Two adjacent homes, at 293 and 297 Pratt, sustained a total of $2,000 damage, much of it to windows shattered by the blast. Firefighters from Engine Companies 1, 3 and 13 responded to the explosion, putting out a small fire soon after their arrival at the scene, Battalion Chief George Coates said.

Coates said fire officials believed the explosion was centered in the basement of the 2 1/2 -story house, which was nearing completion. But Coates said firefighters were prohibited from investigating because of the danger.

"We couldn't go in the basement to find ruction
out (what happened)," Coates said. "It was just too dangerous . . ."

A National Fuel spokeswoman said a company crew was at the scene this morning investigating, but nothing had been determined.

The house was being built by M.J. Peterson Real Estate Corp. of Amherst, which has built or is designated to build nearly 600 subsidized homes in Buffalo.

Using federal and state grants, the City of Buffalo has produced 350 homes in the inner city, with another 800 planned to help invigorate neighborhoods where urban blight has in the past frightened off investors and prospective home buyers. Most of the homes are in the Pratt Street and Willert Park Court area.

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