Hundreds clean up site of deadly Baltimore explosion as neighbors raise funds for families in need

August 16, 2020


Hundreds of Baltimore City residents, neighbors across the county line and others gathered Sunday afternoon to stage a cleanup effort and sidewalk sale to support survivors of last Monday’s gas explosion in Northwest Baltimore that killed two and injured seven.

Dozens of volunteers in neon green vests spread out on the lawns of boarded-up homes along Labyrinth Road and the alley behind the leveled homes, as they shoveled dirt and packed leftover debris into black trash bags.

A Baltimore Police Department cruiser blocked off that part of Reisterstown Station, as a Red Cross vehicle made its way up and down the narrow road, passing out water and snacks. Crew members continued to remove debris from the explosion site, with metal fencing surrounding the grounds of the leveled homes.

Nancy Diaz, a California resident, was in Baltimore for a few weeks to tend to a family situation when the explosion occurred. The 62-year-old decided to lend a hand.

“I was born to serve,” said Diaz, who used to work for the Red Cross and assisted in relief efforts when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. “This has been what I love to do. I just want to be hands of love and light, and that’s what my spirit is.”

Just a few houses from the explosion, Stephanie Hall stood on her front porch with her sister, Vera Skinner, as two volunteers searched her shrub for debris. Hall, a 17-year resident, had been sleeping when the blast went off just before 10 a.m.

She said she thought it was a “really bad crash,” before going outside to see the severity of the situation. Almost a week after the explosion, Hall was still taken aback by how many homes were affected.

The nonprofit Hadassah of Greater Baltimore on Sunday held a sidewalk sale in Pikesville on Reisterstown Road, with a portion of the proceeds set to go to survivors of the explosion.

Customers sorted through racks of inexpensive clothing, bags and jewelry outside the organization’s resale store, which remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Barbara Fink, co-president of the organization, said the store used to be located on Falstaff Road, just blocks from the explosion site, and called the neighborhood “a great part of the community.”

“We knew we had to do something. … The way [the sale] is going, I’m sure we’ll be doing it again,” Fink said.

The two events were a continuation of ways the community has banded together in the aftermath of the explosion. Lonnie Herriott, 61, and Joseph Graham, 20, were the two people found dead after the blast. Family and friends gathered Saturday for a candlelight vigil to remember Graham, a Morgan State University student. Organizers with CASA are planning another vigil Monday night.

The cause of the blast is undetermined and continues to be investigated.

The gas explosion that killed two people in Northwest Baltimore was caught on a camera footage on Labyrinth Road. (Video courtesy of Dominique Bass)
Sitting in a parked Baltimore City Fire Department utility terrain vehicle, Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said he thought to organize the cleanup effort after surveying the debris.

Schleifer, who represents District 5, said several elderly residents live on Labyrinth Road, and he wanted to relieve them of additional work after the traumatic blast. What started as 50 volunteers with Suburban Orthodox Synagogue grew to around 400 people joining in on the effort, Schleifer said.

“Hopefully, we can start rebuilding and try to get back to normal as much as possible. … Where people see the rubble and destruction, I see building blocks,” he said.

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