Four days after officials evacuated more than 170 families from McDougald Terrace, the city’s public housing leader reported that about 40 percent of the apartments inspected this week are discharging carbon monoxide.
And people are still living in those affected units, the Durham Housing Authority said on Wednesday.
The DHA, which manages the public housing complex, said the agency inspected “70 occupied units, where residents are currently still living, [and] 28 of these units were identified for replacement of either a heater or the stove,” according to the DHA website.
By late Wednesday afternoon, the DHA said it would continue to inspect “remaining units with residents still in them” and expected to complete the task of inspecting “all occupied units by the end of the day.”
By late Wednesday morning, housing authority officials had relied on the city public school bus service to transport close to 200 families to 225 hotel rooms across the city, primarily at extended-stay hotels on Miami Boulevard and N.C. Highway 55. DHA officials emphasized that the evacuation is voluntary and those who have been relocated can return to their homes to retrieve their property and other belongings.
On January 3, the DHA ordered the voluntary evacuation of nearly 350 residents following reports of a massive gas leak.
One day before, the residents and their supporters participated in a Q&A session with DHA chief executive officer Anthony Scott at Burton Elementary School, where along with the high carbon monoxide levels that they think may have killed two children.
The residents also expressed dismay about lead paint in their apartments, mold, pervasive sewage issues, duct tape repairs for gas leaks, rusted window sills, cracked ceilings, and peeling paint on the walls and tubs.
The 390-unit apartment complex, named after Durham pioneer and community leader R.L. McDougald, is the largest and oldest in the city. At a press conference yesterday, DHA executive director Anthony Scott reported that of the 70 occupied apartments that were inspected, 28 of the units contained furnaces, hot water heaters, and stoves that need to be replaced as a consequence of carbon monoxide emissions.
Shortly before the evacuation, fire department assistant chief Andy Sannipoli told The News & Observer that “there was no indication” that carbon monoxide led to the deaths of infants on November 20 and December 8.
But during the Q&A session last week, former city council candidate Victoria Peterson pressed Scott, who was joined by fire and emergency medical services officials, for a definitive answer.
Assistant EMS chief Lee VanVleet confirmed to her that CO poisoning was a possibility because the autopsy reports had not been finished.
Scott could not be reached for comment Wednesday. However, in the press briefing, he described the inspection findings as “concerning. We wouldn’t be taking these extraordinary measures [if it wasn’’],” Scott told reporters. “That is why we are doing what we are doing now.”
Scott said on Wednesday that the DHA began evacuating residents who live on Lawson Street. In addition to the 220 displaced households, officials with the United Way have reported that at least 40 more families are on a waiting list to receive hotel vouchers.
Scott said his agency needs “a little more time” before determining whether to evacuate the entire complex.
The DHA website reports that it housing will hold another Q&A session at Burton Elementary for its residents on Saturday at 11:00 a.m.
Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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