Investigators still seeking cause of Baynesville apartment explosion Natural gas not a factor, BGE officials believe

July 31, 1998|By Jamie Smith | Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

Investigators still had no clue yesterday what caused the explosion that heavily damaged a Baynesville apartment building Wednesday night -- displacing 32 people -- and were waiting for workers to clear debris and shore up the structure, which is slated for demolition.

The front of the two-story, four-apartment building in the 8700 block of Loch Bend Drive was blown out shortly after 5 p.m., slightly injuring three people and snarling rush-hour traffic on nearby Joppa Road and Loch Raven Boulevard.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials had expected to get into the building to investigate yesterday, but county building engineer John R. Reisinger ruled that the structure was unsafe and liable to collapse if anyone entered.

BGE spokeswoman Jessica Brown said last night that contractors were shoring up the building to stabilize the walls and investigators might be let in today. The debris was cleared by about 4: 30 p.m. yesterday.

"Right now, the cause is still up in the air," said Dennis Blessing, a BGE safety and training supervisor. But BGE officials said the blast was likely not gas-related.

Those displaced by the explosion -- 10 from the damaged building and 22 residents of three connected buildings -- were told they were likely to be kept out until the cause of the explosion was determined. Reisinger said the three neighboring buildings were undamaged.

Residents are staying at the nearby Welcome Inn or with family or friends.

"It's a mess," said Eleanor Malthan, 70, who lives next door to the damaged building and is staying with a relative.

Reisinger said the building will be demolished layer by layer to preserve the basement for inspection. The demolition will be done by contractors for Apartment Services Inc., which owns the Loch Bend Apartments complex.

Reisinger said it would be up to the company to decide when the demolition would take place. A company representative did not return telephone messages yesterday, and an apartment manager declined to comment.

Wednesday night, Blessing, the BGE safety official, briefly went into the basement and found all the company's equipment intact, which he said indicated that gas was not involved.

Readings detected no sign of natural gas in the basement, the three connected buildings or the four buildings across the street. BGE workers also found no leak in gas lines leading to the building.

"None of our equipment malfunctioned, is what's been determined right now," said Blessing. "What's left to look at is the appliances."

Bomb squad investigators ruled out a bomb Wednesday, according to county Fire Department spokesman Capt. Michael Robinson. He said it was "highly improbable" that the blast was intentional.

"Just an outright explosion of a building is a rare occurrence," he added. "Historically, by data we have of past incidents, most explosions in suburban areas are related to gas."

Yesterday, before workers began hauling off heaping piles of debris that included broken windows and a wedding photograph, residents tried to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Those who lived in the damaged apartments were not permitted to get anything out of the building, leaving one man calling to his cat and hoping she was alive inside.

County police Sgt. Dean Brubaker said no promise could be made that residents' property could be saved during the demolition. "If there's any way we can get it for them, we'll try, but we can't risk a human for a television," he said.

Residents in the neighboring buildings were allowed to go inside briefly for their things. Steve Berg, 48, who lives next door to the damaged apartments, got clothes and necessities -- and his two goldfish, Fin and Swim.

"They seem to be all right," said Berg, who is staying at the Welcome Inn.

Several residents of the Raven Drive apartments behind the damaged building said they have been affected by the blast, too.

"What did it?" asked Germaine Dorsey, 42, who lives in the 8700 block of Raven Drive and is worried that something similar could happen in her building. "Until I find out what really happened, I'm going to be on edge."

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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