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Still no cause in Flushing gas blast

Fire Marshals are still investigating the cause of the gas explosion that has left a Flushing man clinging to life in a hospital burn unit, his 23-month-old daughter severely burned – and hundreds homeless.
Edgar Zaldumbide lies in an induced coma in the Weill Cornell burn unit at New York Presbyterian Hospital, with severe burns over 75 percent of his body, as his wife Yvonne keeps vigil. Their daughter Melissa is in stable condition at the same hospital.
Zaldumbide and the infant were the most serious casualties of the blast, which turned a balmy Friday afternoon into chaos for the residents of Fairmont Hall, a 90-unit apartment building at 147th Street and Sanford Avenue.
Robert Browne, a division commander for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) at the scene on July 25 confirmed that of the other 15 people injured, six firefighters suffered only minor injuries.
According to witnesses, the entire building – to which gas service had been restored by Con Edison, after six weeks, just 11 minutes before the explosion – shuddered with the force, which collapsed the ceiling between apartment 2P, where the blast apparently took place, and the apartment above.
Partition walls between the probable point of origin and adjacent apartments were also blown out. The devastation was so widespread that nearly half of the 90 families in the apartments closest to the blast were not allowed to return to their homes that day, although some were permitted to enter with a police escort, to retrieve belongings.
Many of the displaced families had to seek shelter with the Red Cross, which set up operations in the gymnasium of J.H.S. 189, the Daniel Carter Beard Middle School, just across 147th Street on Sanford Avenue, according to the school’s principal, Cindy Diaz-Burgos.
The devastation could just be observed in the late afternoon light, through some of the many windows which were shattered by the concussion, which showered the courtyard below with shards of glass and personal property of some tenants, which had to be thrown out the windows to clear the burning rooms.
Police and Fire units cordoned off several streets around the blast site. The Q12 bus line had to be diverted for five blocks, leaving a single bus and its driver stranded across the street from the building, unable to move.
Sarfraz Rana and his wife had gone out to dinner before the incident.
“We [couldn’t] cook at home – no gas for a month,” he said. The couple arrived at the scene around 6:30 to find they couldn’t get into their second-floor apartment. “We’re just here without anything. This is terrible. At this time we have no place to live. I’m just with these clothes,” he said.
Gas service to the building had been shut off after a fifth-floor kitchen fire on Wednesday, June 11. According to published reports, Jeffrey Pace, who manages the building said that, “extensive problems with the entire network which fed gas to the building” were discovered, and that the 14 “risers” – the vertical pipes which branch off to individual apartments, had to be replaced.
Service to some of the apartments was restored just two days before the explosion, and Department of Buildings records indicate that all the lines it tested on Wednesday, July 23 passed.
“Con Edison tested each of the risers in the building for leaks or open valves,” spokesperson Chris Olert said. “They all passed.”
Olert also told The Courier that, “Con Edison employees accompanied workers from the plumbing contractor to some of the apartments. Their job was done and they left.”
The utility company has to check one apartment fed by each mail line to see that the gas is flowing properly, according to Olert. “It’s the contractor’s responsibility from that point on,” he said.
Records show that Con Edison employees left the building at 4:13 p.m. According to Pamela Bayro, 25, who lives in apartment 4P, the plumber finished turning on the gas at 4:20 p.m. Five minutes later, her windows blew out and part of her wall collapsed.
Olert reasoned that if someone had opened the gas valves on a stove or oven without having the pilot lights properly ignited, and then tried to light the stove, it could have caused an explosion.
“The Fire Department is the lead agency in the investigation and we’re cooperating with them,” he said.

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