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Tenants lose key items after Flushing blast cleanup

Left without a home after an explosion tore through Fairmont Hall last month, several displaced residents of the building now say thousands of dollars worth of valuables and important documents are inexplicably missing from their apartments.

Sultan Faiz lived across the hall from Apt. 2P, where gas ignited July 25 and propelled a fireball through 147-25 Sanford Ave., causing one of his walls to collapse and sending debris raining down on his wife, who managed to escape uninjured but traumatized.

"She still jumps now when there is thunder. She's still terrified," Faiz said.

The cause of the explosion remained under investigation.

While Faiz is thankful his wife and teenage daughter escaped the blast unharmed, he said he was horrified to return to his apartment and find all of his valuables and important documents gone.

His apartment, like several in the blast area on the second floor, were deemed contaminated with asbestos following the explosion. As a result, strict city Department of Environmental Protection regulations mandated that an asbestos abatement company be hired to clear the area of any material believed to be exposed to the carcinogen.

But Faiz, whose apartment was nearly destroyed by the force of the explosion, said he returned to his home and found most of his valuable possessions missing yet other less important items that were located nearby remained.

A roll of paper towels and other loose papers lay next to where several folders containing his citizenship papers, his passport and all of his bills had been — now gone. He said more than $6,000 in cash and $65,000 in jewelry were missing, but the small safe that held many of the items was still there.

Faiz is blaming the asbestos abatement company hired by the building's ownership, A. Sarah International Corp.

Both A. Sarah and the building manager, David Pace, said they operated under strict city guidelines and only items deemed to be "ACM" — or asbestos containing material — were removed from apartments.

Pace said all items were individually bagged in heavy plastic, labeled and removed to an asbestos abatement facility, where, according to the DEP guidelines, they will be disposed of. Under the guidelines, however, there was no way for residents to know whether the missing items had been confiscated or stolen.

"It's a horrible, unfortunate thing that I can't understand going through myself, but it's the nature of the beast at this point," Pace said.

According to DEP guidelines for asbestos abatement, there is no protocol for allowing civilians into asbestos abatement sites.

"I was able to get back into my apartment, but all my jewelry has been stolen," said Bellanira Sanchez, the building's tenant association president. "I don't know who did it, I really don't know what's going on. This is ridiculous that we have to go through a tragedy and then come home to this."

Pace said he has been encouraging residents of the building who have found valuables missing to file police reports and pointed out that the building's insurance company is taking verbal claims in the event that someone is named responsible for the explosion.

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), a vocal critic of the building management and city following the blast, said he remains unsatisfied.

"There is still a serious lack of accountability," Liu said. "There is no acceptable excuse as to why there is no accountability on the part of the building owners and the city agencies involved."

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, ext. 138.

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