Willie Mae McQueen, a young woman with a broad smile, was cooking pinto beans, fatback and cornbread in the kitchen of the row house she rents thinking about how good the food would taste and thinking about Earl, "my man," a truck driver due home from work. That's about when the kitchen wall, the common rear wall of five row houses on Ridge Street NW. collapsed Tuesday afternoon.
No one was injured when the wall fell about 4:30 p.m., rupturing water and gas pipes, D.C. fire officials said.
James W. Harris, the District's chief building inspector, said the collapse was the result of "years and years of water from faulty plumbing seeping into the wall, causing the mortar to weaken and the wall to fall."
A Red Cross spokesman said the 10 adults and 15 children who lived in the four row houses affected by the incident - 417 to 423 Ridge St. NW - were taken to the Pitts Motor Hotel, 1451 Belmont St. NW. until the city can find them more permanent housing.
Sitting on the front steps of the Pitts Hotel yesterday, McQueen, who lived in 421 with her sister-in-law talked with two other neighbors affected by the incident and recalled an eerie feeling of uncertainty.
"I was cookin at the stove and I heard a little of the plaster fall down, but that didn't alarm me because I have heard that sound before," McQueen said. "Then I saw big chunks of white plaster fall down from above the back door and that's when I ran out front. I thought the world was coming to an end."
McQueen, who also lives with five children in the two-story, two-bedroom $66.50-a-month row house identical she said, to the three others affected, said she had known for more than a year that the back wall was unsound. McQueen told a reporter that she and others had complained frequently about conditions in the homes.
Harve Thomas, part owner of the row houses, said. "I knew that it (The wall) was unsound, it was obvious that it needed work at some point. But I gave notices to the tenants to find other places to live about a year ago so I could fix the place, but they didn't go because they said they didn't have any place to go."
"They were waiting for public housing, and I told them you could wait a lifetime for public housing," said Thomas, part owner of the property for about 1 1/2 years.
McQueen and others yesterday said they had been on public housing lists for years. They denied getting eviction notices from Thomas.
Freeman Hair, a spokesman for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, said 7,000 families are waiting for public housing. Hair said, however, that because of the emergency needs of McQueen and four other families, their requests would be considered immediately.
Harris, the city building inspector said no building citations had been issued previously against Thomas and St. NW. "there is no way anyone could determine if (the wall) was ever going to fall," Harris said.