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Gas Blast Rocks Apartments; Eight Injured

December 01, 1987|KAREN ROEBUCK | Times Staff Writer

A natural gas explosion that may have resulted from a suicide attempt ripped through an eight-unit apartment complex in Hawthorne this morning, destroying much of the building and sending terrified residents fleeing for their lives, fire officials said.

At least eight people were injured in the 7:15 a.m. blast in the two-story structure at 4386 W. 138th St., according to Hawthorne Fire Chief Roger Milstead.

Milstead said statements made by one victim, a man hospitalized in serious condition with burns over 40% of his body, led investigators to believe that he may have turned the gas on in his apartment in an attempt to commit suicide. The man was not identified.

Seven others, among them a firefighter, received minor injuries in the explosion and ensuing blaze. Milstead said he was amazed that the injuries were not worse.

"The people who live here were extremely fortunate," he said. "The explosion and resulting fire were immediate. There was no way to defend against it."

While two apartments were severely damaged in the initial blast, far greater damage occurred about five minutes later--after the occupants had fled--when about three-quarters of the building collapsed in flames, fire officials said.

Two girls who fled the building--Michelle Najafi, 10, and Maria Rivadeneira, 15--said they were making lunches for school when the blast rocked their second-floor apartment.

"It was like a bang and everything was falling on us," Michelle said. "I don't know how we didn't get hurt."

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