The blast occurred Wednesday night shortly before 9 p.m., killing at least five people and injuring more than 20. Authorities who at first feared two or three more people were dead in the wreckage said Thursday morning that they believe everybody inside had been accounted for. The victims were believed to be employees.
The explosion blew out windows and collapsed the ceiling of the Clara Barton Convalescence Center. Firefighters and neighbors scrambled to pull dazed survivors out of the burning building. As the flames progressed, rescuers tried to free trapped residents, but the force of the fire pushed them back.
Area residents reported hearing a loud blast when the boiler exploded.
"I thought it was a bomb," a neighbor said. "I thought somebody bombed something around here."
About 110 people, including 93 residents, were inside the home at the time, Fire Chief Theron Wiggins said.
Four people were pronounced dead on arrival at Hurley Medical Center and another died in surgery early Thursday, spokesman Larry Daly said. In all, 18 people were taken to area hospitals, some in critical condition.
The explosion has left all the elderly residents without a home. Churches and nursing homes nearby have opened up their doors to the survivors.
Some witnesses reported smelling natural gas after the blast, but the exact cause of the explosion has not been determined. Investigators say that boiler was only a couple of months old.
"This is a total shock," said nursing home administrator Michael Kegley. "It's very, very hard on everybody."
The nursing home had a history of citations for violations involving patient care, The Flint Journal said.
Clara Barton was the only nursing home in Genesee County to receive a designation of "much worse than the norm" by the state Department of Consumer and Industry Services, based on inspections in 1997 and 1998, newspaper said.
In 1996, the state had threatened to stop it from accepting people on Medicaid under a tough new federal enforcement system. The state cleared the home a few months later after another inspection, saying it was in "substantial compliance," the paper said.
The nursing home also was cited for serious violations in 1993, 1994 and 1995, including such lapses as physically restraining residents without evidence of need and inadequate records.
The home is owned by Gerry Baker, who bought it last month and owns one other nursing home in the area, the Flint paper said.
It had been owned by Dallas-based Texas Health Enterprises, but the company filed for bankruptcy protection in August and said it would relinquish control of some of its homes, including Clara Bartn.