A woman was found dead in the rubble of a Gate City apartment building that collapsed in an explosion early Tuesday morning, fire officials confirm.
The woman had "crushing injuries and burns" and responders didn't find a pulse when they found her body in the rubble, Birmingham Fire Chief C.W. Mardis said.
The coroner has identified the woman as Tyrennis Laval Mabry, age 40.
Mabry's fiance was pulled from the rubble alive, but in critical condition. He has been identified as Daryle Brown. As of 11:30 a.m., Brown was in the ICU at UAB Hospital.
Brown and Mabry were found inches apart from each other on the first floor of the two-story apartment, according to Birmingham Fire Chief Ivor Brooks.
"It was a spot of less than two feet of clearance that was there. There was another victim right next to [Brown] that was a matter of inches that did not survive. It was, I would say, God's saving grace," Brooks said.
Officials say an explosion occurred at the Gate City Apartments in east Birmingham around 2:45 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17. Authorities suspect the explosion was from a natural gas leak, but the official cause has not been determined.
The fire from the explosion burned for another two hours and firefighters continued to put out hot spots until the flames were contained around 6:30 a.m.
Two units, 79 and 80, were flattened in the explosion. A five-foot pile of rubble is all that remains of the two-story building, which had five bedrooms in each unit. The apartment is in the Marks Village public housing complex, with is part of the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District.
Approximately ten people lived in units 79 and 80. Everyone from unit 79 was able to escape. Birmingham Fire Chief C.W. Mardis said they had to crawl through fire and debris to get to the street to safety.
A woman, her fiancé, a grandmother, child and another adult reportedly lived in unit 80. The woman who lived in that unit is believed to be Tyrennis Mabry.
Four children were taken to Children's of Alabama Hospital to be treated. Hospital officials say all of the children are in good condition and are expected to be released today.
One adult was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital, two adults were taken to Trinity Medical Center and the man discovered alive in the rubble was transported to UAB Hospital.
Fire officials said most of the injured victims had scrapes and burns, and with the exception of the man in critical condition, none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.
The apartment complex is located at Georgia Road and Joppa Avenue. Much of the area was blocked to traffic this morning, but some roads have reopened. Police are asking drivers to avoid the area.
Dozens of residents have been evacuated to the Gate City Rec Center and the Birmingham Police Department East Precinct. One evacuee said she is scared to cook for fear of another explosion, and still has many questions about what happened.
Many of the residents said that they have reported gas leaks in the past.
In an 11 a.m. press conference about the Gate City explosion, Birmingham Fire Chief Ivor Brooks confirmed that residents told them there have been previous complaints about gas leaks, but they can't confirm those reports.
"When the explosion [happened], it blew where the gas meters were connected to the building, it blew that loose. So we had a free flow of natural gas in that area, which was actually burning upon our arrival," Chief Brooks said.
"We had to cease operations at that time until we could wait to shut the natural gas off. Once we got the gas shut off and the flames extinguished, we were able to extricate [the victim]," he added.
Deborah Norton says that Alagasco was in the area checking a reported leak last week but workers said everything was OK. She and another resident say they feel that their reports aren't taken seriously.
Alagasco has been on scene all day checking each apartment and slowly restoring service. Around 9 p.m., a spokesperson says that all but 12 apartments had service once again. Those units are adjacent to the units that were damaged.
They released these statements:
"First and foremost, we want to express that our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy. We want to reiterate that Alagasco's priority is the safety of our customers, the public and our employees.
Early this morning, Alagasco responded to a report of a structure fire in the Gate City area. We located and turned off natural gas service to the area involved. Right now, Alagasco personnel are on site going from home to home to reconnect service where possible."
The fire chief asked for prayers for the families of the victims and those affected. He also thanked the police department and other agencies for their help in the situation.
"We always keep hope and hope that we can save someone, and in this case it was the same. Once we pulled the one out alive, we were praying and hoping that it would be the same result for the other individual; however it was not," Chief Brooks said.
Birmingham mayor William Bell came to the Gate City neighborhood and prayed with first responders and family members affected by the explosion.
"We had hope up until the last minute that both the remaining individuals would come out alive," Bell said in a press conference Tuesday.
"My personal feelings was the admiration of the men and women of the fire and rescue and job that they did to make sure they took every precaution to save every life that was in jeopardy," the mayor said.
Alagasco released the following statement just before 11 a.m. Tuesday:
First and foremost, we want to express that our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy. We want to reiterate that Alagasco's priority is the safety of our customers, the public and our employees.
Early this morning, Alagasco responded to a report of a structure fire in the Gate City area. We located and turned off natural gas service to the area involved. Right now, Alagasco personnel are on site going from home to home to reconnect service where possible.
Gate City residents have expressed concerns about water in the area. Chief Mardis says firefighters have used so much water that it has pulled sediment into the system and lines. He says water will improve soon.
The Birmingham Water Works Board said it is normal to see discolored water after nearby fire hydrants have been heavily used. General Manager Mac Underwood issued this statement around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday:
"The BWWB's water quality employees are experienced in dealing with these type situations, and they were onsite since early this morning taking the appropriate actions to correct the water quality in the area. We are committed to providing service to all our customers; therefore, our employees remained onsite until operations were back to normal and the discolored water dissipated."
Birmingham Fire Chief Mardis said late Tuesday morning that the area is still slightly hazardous, but is mostly safe. The investigation is now up to Alagasco, he said. He also expressed his condolences to the family of the woman who passed away.
"The hearts of the fire department and the city of Birmingham go out to the family and we certainly sympathize with them and pray with them for their loss. If there's anything as a city or a fire department we can do, they can certainly give us a call," he said.
The Salvation Army is on the scene, offering support to the dozens of people affected by the fire and explosion. Spokesman Brian Wallace said there could be "a few dozen" people who will be displaced at Christmas.
The Salvation Army will have trained counselors and ordained ministers available to Gate City residents.
The Red Cross, the Redmont Hotel and several Birmingham radio stations are offering help to those affected by the explosion. Find out how you can donate to the victims here.
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