BYLINE: By Joan Treadway; Staff writer

The Thursday night explosion that left nearly 60 people homeless was caused

by a natural gas leak and has made the building where it occurred in the B.W.

Cooper public housing complex unsalvageable, fire and housing officials said

Friday.

Because of the extent of the damage, fire investigators pegged gas as the

culprit in the explosion. But for the same reason, investigators could not

determine where the gas came from, said Roman Nelson, a spokesman for the Fire

Department. The Housing Authority of New Orleans said the leak came from an

appliance, but did not elaborate.

No one was seriously injured in the explosion Friday at 8:20 p.m. at 1312 S.

Galvez St., but the 18 families who lived in the building are being relocated

because it is not structurally sound.

The news that a gas leak caused the explosion, which blew out walls in the

front and back of the building, sent B.W. Cooper residents scrambling to find

other possible leaks.

“We’re extremely worried,” said Darrell Williams, executive director of the

B.W. Cooper Resident Management Corp., which runs the complex under a contract

with HANO. He said that in the past, small gas leaks were reported to management

and dealt with but that nothing of this magnitude had happened.

Cheryl Fox, who lived in apartment C on the fourth floor, where the explosion

started , was at Charity Hospital, where she has been for two weeks, when it

occurred, Williams said. A social worker at the hospital told Williams on Friday

that Fox was relieved that neither she nor her adult daughter, who was in the

apartment as recently as Tuesday, were home when the explosion occurred.

Patricia Scott, who lived on the first floor of the building, said Friday

that she was grateful that she, her husband and their son all lived through the

disaster.

“We were watching “Crime Scene Investigation” on television — it’s weird now

to think about that — when we heard a big bang. Then we felt a shake, and then

the lights went out,” Scott said. They looked out of their front door, saw a

tangle of bricks and live wires and left through the back door, she said.

Meanwhile, Williams and his staff found enough vacant apartments in the

Cooper complex for the displaced families, he said.

Most families were expected to be moved into their new homes by Friday night.

People who had lived in sections of the building that were not badly damaged

were allowed to retrieve some of their belongings, Williams said.

Deborah Miller, 45, who had lived in the building nearly 20 years, said

Friday, “I’m still in shock.” She said that she had returned home from her job

as a convention center worker to find the devastation. Monday and Tuesday the

resident management team will help those who lost personal property file claims

for their losses with HANO, Williams said.

The American Red Cross is assessing the affected residents’ need for food,

clothing and furniture.