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Mystery unsolved year after Flushing apt. gas blast

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At 147-25 Sanford Ave. in Flushing late Monday evening, there were signs of normalcy.

Neighbors chatted in the walkway leading up to the building. Laundry hung from fire escapes. A woman called out the window to her son, who had forgotten his wallet on the kitchen counter.

Outwardly, there was little evidence of the violent explosion that changed the face of the building, known as Fairmont Hall, forever nearly one year ago.

“We have mice in our building. We have not had a place to do laundry in a year. But what can I say? We have to live,” said Pauline Durden, who lives on the sixth floor.

On July 25, 2008, a gas explosion tore through Fairmont Hall, mortally wounding Edgar Zaldumbide, severely injuring his 23-month old daughter and completely destroying several apartments.

For the residents of the building, the day was supposed to be celebratory. Following weeks of wrangling with Con Edison and the building’s management, gas was finally going to be turned back on after nearly two months without it.

But tenants in more than 50 of the apartments were instantly rendered homeless when gas leaking from Zaldumbide’s stove in Apt. 2P ignited while he played with his 23-month-old daughter in their living room. Without warning, a fireball blew through the building, knocking down walls, shattering glass and sending air conditioners flying onto the street below.

Two months later, Zaldumbide died of the injuries he suffered in the blast.

Building Manger David Pace said Zaldumbide’s wife, Yvonne, and her two daughters still live in the building but moved to the sixth floor.

“There was obviously a lot of emotion attached to the old apartment after Edgar passed away. We’re just doing whatever we can for her,” Pace said. “The story may fade out of the limelight, but the pain that people go through is still there.”

In the year since the explosion occurred, however, little has been said about who, if anyone, may have been responsible.

Following the explosion, several elected officials demanded accountability and an investigation into the cause of the blast. City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) said the case was turned over to the Queens district attorney’s office, which launched a criminal investigation.

The Queens district attorney’s office said it does not comment on ongoing investigations, but a review of records showed no criminal charges have been filed against Con Edison, building owners All Wall Construction Corp. or Liberty Plumbing and Heating Inc., which had been contracted to work on the pipes in the building.

Pace said he is confident the management group will not be found at fault, but said he hopes the situation is resolved soon.

We haven’t gotten a formal answer on a cause. All we’ve gotten is that a gas valve was found in the open position,” he said. “I’m sure the legal end of this will be going on for years.”

A review of civil court records showed that Zaldumbide’s family filed a lawsuit against Con Edison in the days following his death, but it has yet to be resolved. Several residents had mounted an effort to file a similar suit for negligence, but it appears to have fizzled.

A representative for Con Edison said it does not comment on legal matters, but gas has now been restored to nearly all of the apartments without incident.

Sultan Faiz’s wife and daughter were home at the time of the explosion, and were nearly buried in debris when the blast blew out one of their walls. They escaped unharmed, but their apartment was nearly destroyed.

Faiz said it has been a trying year, but his family has moved back into their apartment at Fairmont Hall.

“We were homeless for two months. Then they gave us a temporary apartment. It took seven months for the builders and the contractors to get the apartment fixed up,” Faiz said. “So we’ve moved back in, but we still don’t have gas. In a way, we’re back at square one.”

Durden, who lived with a neighbor while repairs were made to her apartment, said residents had no choice but to move on.

“It did bring me closer to my neighbors, there’s still a lot going on in the building. We still fight with the building management,” she said. “But we’ve got to go on with our lives.”

For others, the lack of closure is frustrating.

“For a month, two months, there were people, politicians out here every day saying they were going to figure out what happened,” said Celeste Paoma, who lives with her mother in the building. “Well, what happened? That poor man died and I still don’t know.”

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