‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Rebuilding in Austin Following Building Explosion | Chicago News

A A building explosion on September 20 left one dead and several injured in the community of Austin, on the West Side of Chicago.

Chicago Fire Department officials said the cause of the explosion was related to “natural gas ignition,” but what triggered it is still under investigation.

Most windows are currently closed on the four-story building, and the majority of the roof is gone.

A resident who lives in the nearby apartment complex said the blast sounded like an earthquake.

“It was scary,” said Lemorse Wright, pointing to the building behind him. “All that [roof] was gone. A woman had no clothes. I looked out the window and they were trying to throw a mattress. A guy blew back and forth. His face was completely burnt. All of his skin was off his face. Can you imagine seeing something like this? I’m sometimes in the house at night and it seems like I can still hear that sometimes.

Wright also shared that her apartment building currently has no gas.

Interactive map: More information on our community reporting series

A 29-year-old man suffered severe burns and was pronounced dead a few days later. He was one of many injured in the explosion.

Down the block, the Red Cross has set up a temporary shelter inside Circle city ministries for the first two days to help families.

James Borishade, CEO and executive director of Circle Urban Ministries, said his team works with families to provide them with what they need.

“There were 31 families in the building and 30 of them got out safely,” Borishade said. “The hardest thing is that our shelter was open for three days. A lot of people hadn’t found an apartment at that time, so on the second and third day, that was our only focus.

The building belongs to West End LLC and managed by Urban Alternatives.

A West End spokesman told WTTW News that the building’s landlord was on hand to make sure tenants were ok and released overdue balances and paid back last month’s rent.

Leodus Thomas, Vice President of The Greater Austin Development Association manages buildings in the neighborhood.

He said the owner is known in the community and manages several affordable apartments.

“He even did an inspection the week before to make sure everything was okay,” Thomas said in reference to the building owner. “From what he saw and what the city saw, everything was in order. On top of that, he also paid off all the rent checks. He didn’t have to do this. As an operator, he is part of the community, so he does everything he can to make sure everyone is stable.

Aldus. Chris Taliaferro (29th arrondissement) said families were still working to rebuild weeks later.

“Many families still need financial resources, and even basic clothing and furniture,” Taliaferro said. “There is still a major need…community organizations, our elected leaders have taken a very big lead…it gave me a really good sense of community that we can all come together to help the residents. It was something you can’t plan for. You cannot plan to be moved from your home. Many have left their homes to go to work in the hope of returning home and unfortunately they have not been able to do so.

Video: Watch Ald’s full interview. Chris Taliaferro.

The The US Small Business Administration recently opened a Disaster Loan Outreach Center after approving a disaster declaration last week.

The center currently operates from Austin City Hall weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Displaced residents can come in to learn about filling out low-interest loans to help replace damaged or destroyed property.

A representative from the Small Business Administration said the loans give families longer time to pay it back with a five-month deferral period.

“We are offering up to $40,000 for personal property and up to $200,000 for home repair replacement,” said SBA’s Tanoah Beavers. “About 10-12 families have come and applied, but at this time they are not interested in taking on any additional debt with the loans. We have had inquiries from families who were interested in the low interest loans . »

The center will be open until Thursday, October 20.

Many highlighted how the community has come together to help people find housing and other essentials as they move forward.

“Our neighbors are experiencing trauma,” Borishade said. “And now they are in a new place, but they have nothing in this new place. We try to help with furniture, toiletries, our pots and pans…our board, our donors have been phenomenal in sending the things they feel they need in this kind of situation.

During this time, the Austin African American Business Networking Association is on the ground to help meet the needs of businesses in the region as many look to bounce back from COVID.

“We’re starting to turn the corner,” said Malcolm Crawford, the association’s executive director. “There has been quite a bit of federal, state and municipal assistance, which is rare. Usually it was more about social issues… but now seeing businesses as part of the answer was part of the pivot and so it has been very helpful in bringing businesses back into the community.

There has also been a major effort to transform a strip of Chicago Avenue between Cicero and Austin avenues into the “Soul City” of Chicago.

“It’s going phenomenal. The city of Chicago is known for its cultural enclaves and economic engines like Greek Town, Boys Town, Little Italy… the list goes on. But now to have Soul City functioning as an economic engine for African Americans, and just to be an inclusive place has been great,” Crawford said. “Take a place like Chicago Avenue – what better place to do business in the city of Chicago, than a street called Chicago Avenue. It’s really starting to gain momentum.”

Video: Watch the full interview with Malcolm Crawford.

Community Report Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re taking to the streets to talk with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we went and what we learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Dots in red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.


Comments are closed.