Chelsea homeowner stunned but not hurt

By Travis Anderson
Globe Staff / February 4, 2011

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CHELSEA — Irene Sweeney’s kitchen cabinets burst open yesterday morning, sending plates flying as the roof on a former auto body garage next door collapsed and pushed in a section of wall on the 89-year-old woman’s home.

“She’s a lot better now, but she was a mess earlier,’’ said her grandson, Patrick, 21, outside her home.

He said his grandmother, who lives alone in her home on Vernon Street, was taken out of her home on a stair chair, used by rescuers for infirm persons. She was taken to her grandson’s home, also in Chelsea.

Deputy Fire Chief Bobby Better said no one was in the converted auto body shop on Vernon Street when the roof caved in. Better said its owner, Scott Nguyen of Medford, bought the property about six months ago and runs a flooring business there.

Firefighters responded to the scene about 9 a.m., Better said. When the roof of the one-story, cinder-block building caved in, a wall collapsed into the side of Sweeney’s house and pushed in a portion of it.

Engineers have yet to determine whether Sweeney’s home sustained further damage. It was not immediately clear when she would be able to return.

Better said the converted auto body shop is about 35 years old and will have to be demolished. Firefighters detected an odor of gas coming from inside the building after the collapse and power was cut.

The collapse was the second of a commercial building in Chelsea in as many days, Better said. He said inspectors have checked roofs of public structures, including school buildings, and discovered snow drifts of more than 4 feet on some.

Mary Cushman, 46, a neighbor of Sweeney’s, said she heard a loud noise when the roof collapsed.

“It sounded like a bomb went off in the neighborhood,’’ she said.

Soon after, rescuers took Sweeney, who was conscious and alert, out of her home, Cushman said.

“It scared her a lot, I know that,’’ she said.

Another neighbor, Kristen Smith, 35, described a chaotic scene in the immediate aftermath of the collapse with firefighters, television news trucks, and utility workers crowding the street.

“It was chaos,’’ she said.

Patrick Sweeney said he was thankful his grandmother was not injured.

“I’m glad she’s all right,’’ he said. “As long as she’s OK, that’s all that matters.’’