Atlanta, GA- Some report smelling gas leak earlier

By MAE GENTRY, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A cockroach crawled up a door jamb while Fannie and John Ali unloaded boxes they and their neighbors had hastily packed Saturday after an explosion at the Pine Hill Apartment Homes in northwest Atlanta where they lived.

“We’re blessed,” said Fannie Ali, 47, who found another apartment in the same complex to replace the one they had lived in. Windows and part of the brick wall of their apartment were blown away in the explosion investigators believe was caused by a natural gas leak.

The couple was unharmed in Saturday’s blast, which left 16 people without shelter and two men in critical condition at Grady Hospital’s burn unit.

The men remained in critical condition Sunday. Angela Ward, 49, who was hospitalized with chest pains Saturday, was released. “Everybody wants to come see our 9/11,” Ward said Sunday as passers-by stopped to look over the damaged buildings.

Neighbors pointed out scorched plants 35 feet from the blast.

Fannie Ali was getting ready to take her husband to work Saturday morning when she heard a boom. Moments later, she saw the homeless men she calls “Little Willie” and “Bicycle Willie,” who had been living in the vacant apartment that was at the center of the blast.

“They were just walking around,” she said. “Skin was peeling off their face, their arms. They lost fingers.”

She called 911.

Tenants said they had smelled gas at the Holly Street apartment complex before Saturday. One tenant produced a gas company notice that described a “dangerous” leak.

Andrew Kelly, manager of the apartment complex, said he knew about the tenant’s complaint, but had not been able to verify it. “When we checked the apartment out, there was no gas leak,” he said. “If that came to our attention, we’d take care of it immediately.”

Apartment complex owner Pine Hill LLC purchased the buildings two months ago, Kelly said.

Fannie Ali’s sister, Ruby Wesley of Atlanta, learned of the blast Saturday night when she got home from work.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “When I saw it on TV, it looked like a war zone. We lost a sister after a fire, and it brought all that back.”

The Red Cross offered hotel vouchers to displaced tenants. But Albert “Pete” Gordon, 58, spent Saturday night on the couch in his apartment, its walls blackened from the explosion. Two firefighters who examined the damaged building Sunday were surprised to discover he had spent the night in the apartment.

“My nerves are bothering me,” Gordon said, as he sat in semidarkness. “Sometimes I think about yesterday, then I start shaking and crying. I don’t even want to talk about