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Two homes broken into on collapsed Charles Village block

City officials promised a doubling of security on the collapsed block of East 26th Street in Charles Village on Monday after two of its 19 evacuated homes were reported broken into.

One homeowner reported $250 worth of damage to a window frame after he noticed his second-story air conditioning unit had been forced into the home, according to a police report. Residents of another home reported missing nearly $1,200 in cash and other personal items — including shoes, jewelry and a laptop computer — after it was determined there had been a break-in there as well.

The homes were evacuated April 30, when a large retaining wall holding their street above parallel CSX Transportation railroad tracks collapsed amid heavy rains. Residents of the homes have been staying in hotels as crews work to stabilize the street.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she was "outraged" by the break-ins and vowed to double police presence in the area.

"These families have already had to endure so much, and the idea that someone would choose to victimize one of them in this way is appalling," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.

Homeowner James Zitzer, who could not be reached for comment, told police he believed someone had climbed to his second-story window and tried to enter the home sometime between Thursday and Monday but that nothing appeared to be missing from inside, according to the police report.

An officer observed a second-story window and the back door of the adjacent home were open, according to the report.

The officer determined the second home had been "possibly ransacked," and called the home's residents to the scene, where they identified the missing items, according to the police report.

The residents and homeowner, Harold Diehl, could not be reached for comment.

Police are investigating both as breaking-and-entering incidents.

In the days following the collapse, which construction crews are still working to repair, metal fencing was placed around the entire block to keep people out of the unstable area and the closed-off homes. Rawlings-Blake said at the time that she had "ordered the city police to continue to monitor the site and pay careful attention to the homes that cannot be occupied right now."

On Monday, Rawlings-Blake said that in addition to the increased police presence, a 24-hour CityWatch surveillance camera would be installed "to ensure more is done to protect these residents and their belongings as we work to get them moved back into their homes as quickly as possible."

Kelly Cross, president of the Old Goucher Community Association, which represents residents in the area, said the break-ins were one more "terrible" outcome of residents being forced from their homes.

"There are all sorts of things that happen when something like this occurs," Cross said, referring to residents being told they'll be out of their homes for several weeks.

"It's not a long enough period that you would go in and move all your stuff out," Cross said, "but just enough for it to be targeted."

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