Authorities look into Ready Ave. explosion Residents say they smelled natural gas

November 05, 1998|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Bernard Coleman was looking for a pocketbook and a strong box yesterday morning, but all he came up with were cans of beans.

Searching through the rubble of what had been home to him, his fiancee and their two children, Coleman piled the canned goods together with pieces of recovered clothing the morning after an ZTC explosion ripped through the 5300 block of Ready Ave. in Govans.

"The keys to our car are in her pocketbook, so we can't get to work or take the kids to school, and we've got a strong box with all of our important papers buried somewhere in there," said Coleman, whose fiancee, Diane Moore, was injured in the blast.

"There's nothing left of the house except the kitchen. It's like we're stuck in the middle of nowhere," he said.

Until the debris is cleared sometime today, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. investigators will not be able to determine if the blast resulted from a gas leak, as many residents suspect.

"Our people are still trying to determine what happened," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman. "We're still not sure this was a natural gas explosion, although many fingers point to it."

BGE workers recovered an intact gas meter from 5316 Ready Ave. -- one of three adjoining rowhouses destroyed by the blast -- and found no leaks when they tested the meter and piping attached to it.

The explosion also hit homes at 5318 and 5320 Ready Ave. and caused serious burns to Moore, who lived at 5318, the house that blew up. Moore was listed in fair condition yesterday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center on Eastern Avenue with burns over one-quarter of her body.

Verlean Coleman of 5310 Ready Ave., who is not related to Bernard Coleman, said she smelled natural gas out on the sidewalk a little after 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

"It was getting stronger but I couldn't tell where it was coming from," she said.

At 4: 26 p.m., the gas company received a call from someone on the block reporting a gas odor and sent out a utility mechanic, who arrived at 4: 52 p.m., according to Michael Delaney, a BGE spokesman.

"He checked the entire block outside -- storm drains and water meter vaults and cracks in the pavement," said Delaney. "He did not smell gas or detect any with his instruments."

At 5: 23 p.m., the mechanic left Ready Avenue. No one, according to Delaney, called in complaints of possible gas leaks inside any of the houses on the block.

At 6: 43 p.m., 5318 exploded, bringing down the house, large chunks of adjacent homes and sending residents running. Aside from Moore, there were no serious injuries. The blast was felt as far away as Homeland, about a half-mile from the explosion.

"My [fiancee, Moore] kept saying she smelled gas when she came home from work a little after 6 p.m.," said Bernard Coleman. "I checked the line behind the stove and was going downstairs to check the hot water heater. By the time I got to the bottom of the steps, it sounded like Beirut."

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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