SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJZ/AP) — Authorities expect the death toll to rise following an explosion and gas-fueled fire that rocked a Silver Spring apartment complex, killing at least three people and injuring dozens more.
Montgomery County Assistance Police Chief Russ Hamill did not provide a number of people who may still be missing following Wednesday night’s blast, but said investigators had accounted for about 110 people known to be present.
“Our investigation leads us to the conclusion that a number of people are still within the remains of the buildings on Arliss Street,” said Hamill.
Authorities have not been able to find and recover bodies of victims because the structure, which is badly damaged, remains on the verge of collapse, fire chief David Steckel acknowledged. The building’s instability, authorities have said, is why firefighters and police have been suspending their searches at nightfall.
“The building still presents as a collapse hazard, which is a dangerous situation for the personnel,” Steckel said. “The movement of debris itself presents a challenge. Every time you move something, it has the possibility to impinge the integrity of the structure so we have to be careful and methodical.”
Two victims’ bodies were found on Thursday. A third was found on Friday afternoon. The victims will be taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore for identification.
As authorities, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, worked to track down what caused the explosion, residents and neighbors were still reeling from the incident about 48 hours later.
Tenant Marisa Campos said it was “really loud” and sounded like “a hurricane or earthquake or something.”
Audio tapes of 911 calls made Wednesday night paint a harrowing picture.
“The whole building is on fire, the whole, whole building in front of me,” one caller told dispatchers.
Said another caller, “The whole apartment is on fire. From top to bottom, it blew up. Everything collapsed.”
While the cause of the explosion remains under investigation, tenants had made complaints about the smell of gas in recent weeks, including on July 25. Still, others have questioned whether building maintenance may have played a role.
“I think we aggressively inspect probably more than any jurisdiction around,” said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.
Search efforts were expected to resume on Saturday morning.
The deadly tragedy has left more than 100 people homeless.
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