About 400 residents of the Langston Dwellings public housing project at 2101 G St. NE were without heat for the second consecutive day yesterday because a broken boiler that provides heat for the 14-buiding complex could not be repaired.
As the residents, many of them children, huddled around electric stoves and portable heaters or donned thick layers of clothing to keep warm in last night's blustery 30-degree weather, city officials attempted to provide overnight lodging in a nearby school for the elderly and others.
Sophornia Coston, a mother of five, used a short, red candle last night to guide a friend up three flights of stairs to her two-bedroom apartment. Coston said her children had to huddle around the electric stove, which she said barely works, to try to keep warm.
"It took me three hours today just to cook hot dogs for the kids," she said. "The only way we can keep warm in here is to keep the oven on, and I put on a big pot of boiling water. That helps. But we haven't had not water for two months."
Public housing officials said they turned off heat in the complex Wednesday for what they though would be minor repairs to the main boiler and two auxiliaries. Stefan Williams, housing manager for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, said that when workmen attempted to make minor repairs, they discovered a larger problem that could not be reparied easily.
Freeman Hair, the department's property manager, said the city has been having intermittent problems with the Langston boilers for the last three weeks.
"When they were shut off yesterday (Wednesday), the first word I got was that we would need a brand new boiler," Hair said. "But since then, other workmen said we need a part for the boiler, which unfortunately couldn't e sent here until around Feb. 17.
"What we have done since then is order a portable boiler from Baltimore which we hope to have operating Friday afternoon," Hair said.
Hair said residents have been using portable heaters and using their stoves day and night to keep warm. That has overloaded many of the electrical circuits in the 274-unit complex, causing occasional power outages during the last several days.
"Since 10 a.m. today, we've gone through 20 fuses, and I've ordered several dozen more," Hair said. "You can't tell the residents not to try to keep warm. But these circuits were not designed to handle the load."
Efforts to have senior citizens and others move to an emergency shelter at River Terrace Elementary School at 34th and Dix streets NE failed last night. Many of the residents said they would rather spend a night elsewhere with relatives or said they did not want to leave their possessions.
Yvonne Better, of the mayor's command center team, spent two hours riding in a police cruiser with flashing red lights. Using a bullhorn, she told residents that a warm shelter was available. But only about four people had taken advantage of the offer late last night.
"Earlier this evening, I had been using the word 'relocate' to tell people there was a warm place to go," Better said. "But later I discovered that maybe they don't understand the word -- that they think it means leaving their possessions for good.
"I changed the message to 'report to the office if you don't have heat,' and we got a better response," she said.
As she peeked through an opening in her wooden door, Madge Beal openned two deadbolt locks, slipped a chain off the door and turned anothe lock to admit a visitor last night.
"I can't go anywhere because of him," the elderly woman said, pointing to her husband, Thomas, who sat in a wheelchair. "I haven't had heat in here since 4 a.m. Wednesday, no electricity for the stove... We've been without heat and hot water before, but I could always depend on the stove. But now I don't have that.
"I don't know when they are going to get things fixed, but it bothers me," she said.