Amid scorched walls and boarded windows, Takoma Park's residents began putting their homes back in order yesterday in the aftermath of Thursday's freak gasoline explosions that damaged 13 houses and forced the temporary evacuation of more than 2,000 residents.
"I didn't know where to go at first, I got the shakes," Doris Bomyea said as she folded a soggy rug outside the splintered door of her basement apartment on Westmoreland Street and prepared to move into a smaller apartment nearby.
Like many in the residential area, Bomyea learned about the explosions when she returned home from work on Thursday evening. Officials have no complete damage estimate, but say that some houses sustained up to $55,000 in damages. Along with many of her neighbors whose houses were damaged, Bomyea has not yet moved back into her house.
"I guess I'm accepting it," she said, resignedly. "It's happened. All you can do is accept it."
Although most undamaged homes in the area had their heat restored on Friday, a few residents still were without heat. One elderly woman who lives next to a badly burned house was keeping warm yesterday beside her fireplace.
"I've got three gas leaks, the gas people told me this morning," she explained. "They cut it off Thursday and I've got no heat, no water, no gas."
Fire officials said that the fires were caused by gasoline that accidentally had been pumped into the sewer lines instead of into an underground gasoline storage tank at Sickler Service, a plumbing and heating company located at 7071 Carroll Ave. in Takoma Park.
According to Takoma Park Fire Chief Roger McGary, the gasoline had been improperly unloaded by a Dayton Transport Co. employe.
Glenn R. Rippeon, vice president of Hahn Transportation Inc., the parent company of Dayton Transport, said that the company is investigating the incident. Rippeon declined to release the name of the driver who made the delivery, but said the company's investigation did "not reveal that he was negligent." The driver has not been suspended, Rippeon said.
Fire officials still are trying to piece together the sequence of events. Alvin Nichols, Takoma Park's city administrator, said that no criminal charges or civil suits have yet been filed. He said that he expects several government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, to become involved before liability is determined.
Marjorie Johnson, a spokesman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, said the commission has the authority to file civil suit against anyone found to be responsible for malicious or negligent dumping of hazardous materials into the sewage system.
Cars drove slowly through the neighborhood's quiet streets yesterday as motorists came to stare at the charred homes. The Takoma Park community remains jittery. Firefighters rushed to the scene yesterday afternoon when a truck carrying cylinders marked "Explosive" was discovered parked unattended outside Takoma Park Elementary School. The cylinders proved to be empty, but the truck was removed as a precautionary measure.
Verna Locus was one resident who briefly visited her damaged house yesterday. She said that she and her family have lived there for five years, having scrimped for the money to buy and remodel the house.
"I did a lot of crying these last days," she said. "My husband and I had struggled so hard to get . . . up the ladder a little bit. We still have each other, thank God, but the house -- it made me sick to see."
Her neighbor, Deniz Kantor, was equally distressed.
"The first day I was shook up, and last night I didn't sleep," Kantor said. "For the first time in my life I understand how it is for people who go through wars. Most people come back from wars with strange heads -- I see that now.