Highrise blast leaves hundreds homeless

SEE VIDEO http://www.ottawasun.com/2011/08/29/electrical-vault-explosion-at-high-rise-forces-250-out

Around 700 residents are displaced after an electrical vault exploded on the main floor of an east-end highrise Monday, sending two people to hospital.

It happened at 1244 Donald St., near St. Laurent Blvd., around 1:45 p.m., forcing hundreds of residents out of the 16-storey building’s 250 units.

“The whole electrical panel started blowing up right beside me, about two feet away,” said resident Tyler Berry, who was going to check his mailbox.

Fire quickly spread to the basement.

A man is listed in serious but stable condition with shoulder injuries and burns.

“We’re not sure if he was working on the panel or near the panel,” said Ottawa Fire spokesman Marc Messier.

Paramedics said an elderly woman suffered smoke inhalation.

Roughly five hours later, residents were told they couldn’t return home.

“You’re going to be sheltered at Overbrook (community centre) if you choose,” district fire chief Alex Davey told the crowd gathered on a hill.

“Ideally, we’d like you to go to friends or relatives.”

Patrick Charbonneau only had time to grab his cigarettes, phone, and keys.

“I have medication that I have to go get, I have a cat up there that needs feeding, I would like to grab some clothes,” he said. “The building’s not on fire. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be allowed in.”

Davey put it simply.

“We’re not going to let you go in anywhere that puts you at risk,” he said.

Power to the building has been shut off.

The Electrical Safety Authority is investigating and residents can return home only when it’s safe.

Several residents praised firefighters and the building’s security guards but blasted police for being “aggressive and abrasive with people.”

“They have no interpersonal skills — I need tampons and they threatened to arrest me. They’re treating us like criminals,” said one woman who didn’t want to be named.

She’s starting a new job Tuesday and only has the clothes she’s wearing.

“I have to present myself in a certain way,” she said, with tears rolling down her cheeks.

Marcia Thompson says she’s not impressed with police.

“One police officer says we’re ‘so ignorant’, because, you know, nerves were frayed, people were getting upset and this police officer says to us, we are ‘so ignorant’,” she said.

“I’m just at my wit’s end, I don’t know what to do.”

@ottawasunkroche

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