Sep 5, 2016
At least seven people were killed, and more than 40 injured, in a natural gas explosion at the Flower Branch rental apartments in Silver Spring, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. The explosion was so powerful that some of the human remains might not ever be identified. It happened around midnight on Aug. 12th.
More than 100 people survived but were left homeless, losing everything. Twenty-eight apartment units were destroyed.
Investigators determined that the explosion was caused by a gas leak in the basement utility room, where the gas meters were located.
In these apartments, Washington Gas was responsible for maintaining the gas pipes that ran from the outside, up to the basement gas meters. The apartment owner, Kay Communities, was responsible for maintaining the pipes that ran from the gas meters into the individual apartment units.
Kay Communities is a major landlord in the region, the owner of more than thirty large apartment complexes. They have the means to maintain a safe property. Period. There were several reports of the smell of natural gas in the apartments in the weeks before the explosion. And on at least one occasion, a resident called the fire department to report it. The NTSB is “investigating” the phone call, and the fire department’s visit. They say it might take an entire year to complete their investigation.
But since when are tenants – or even the fire department – supposed to act as maintenance look-outs for the whole building? It’s exactly why we pay our rent. It’s exactly what gas meter alarms are for – if they had bothered to buy them. It’s exactly what maintenance workers are for. Could they not find maintenance workers to hire out of this complex made up entirely of workers and their children?
No, this company did nothing but pocket the rent, and rack up more than 1,600 housing code violations in the past six years. Everything from mold to bedbugs to non-working smoke detectors. And that’s not even counting the violations at their other properties.
As for Washington Gas, they are a billion-dollar public company, with earnings of 166 million in 2013. Their top executives take home hundreds of millions in salary. Of course, the gigantic bloat at the top comes with a price: skeleton repair crews running from one emergency to the next. In 2014, private researchers found 6,000 natural gas leaks, just within DC city limits! Twelve of those were found to be potentially explosive. In other words, Washington Gas doesn’t even hire enough people to detect the problems, much less fix them.
Our crumbling infrastructure? No, not at all. These are their pipes, their gas lines, which they own — and they profit from. And which they make conscious decisions to let degrade.
A week into the investigation, federal authorities announced that there was “no criminal activity” involved.
Just business as usual in their sick system, all of it perfectly legal. What could be more criminal than that?