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Springfield Gas Explosion Adds To Homeless Population

The natural gas explosion in downtown Springfield Massachusetts last week dealt a blow to the homeless.  There is a shortage of beds at a time of year when demand for accommodations typically increases.   WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports

An 18 room single occupancy apartment building for low income tenants and  a 60 bed nighttime shelter for the homeless were damaged by the blast and ordered by building inspectors to close pending repairs.

William Miller, executive director of  Friends of the Homeless, a non-profit social service agency that owns the four story brick apartment building on Worthington Street  that is less than half a block from the center of the explosion.   All of the windows blew in, every door is damaged and some ceilings collapsed. 

There is no estimate for how much repairs will cost, or how long it will take to reopen the apartments for the low income tenants who now find themselves homeless again. Some  are staying with relatives. Others are back in emergency shelters.

The main Friends of the Homeless campus , a block further up Worthington, has a capacity of 130 people. Since the blast Friday night, its been averaging 170 people in the shelter.

The Springfield Rescue Mission shelter on Taylor Street, a  block from the blast site, was also damaged and forced to close. Shelter manager Miguel Cabrera said the shelter has  a capacity for 60 people.

A total of 42 buildings were damaged by the explosion, according to city officials. Roughly two dozen can not be occupied again until repairs are made to make the structures safe.  Three buildings, including one that housed a day care center were condemned.

The blast was blamed on human error.  A worker for Columbia Gas company punctured a gas line that’s location was incorrectly marked.  The gas company  has received  close to 200 claims from people seeking payments for their losses.

Springfield City Councilor John Lysak wants to have gas company officials appear before  the council to answer questions about the state of the utility’s infrastructure in Springfield.

The chair of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Ann Berwick, said this week the natural gas distribution system in the state is safe. She said  most gas leaks are the result of improper excavations.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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