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Baltimore’s Poe Homes residents without gas as crews repair underground leak

Baltimore City’s Poe Homes public housing complex residents have been without gas since Saturday morning due to an underground leak, officials said.

By Sunday afternoon, workers had dug a large hole next to a colorfully painted basketball court in the middle of the complex. Piles of dirt were fenced off by caution tape as workers used an excavator to continue digging.

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The outage has left residents in the complex’s 279 occupied units unable to operate their stoves, said Ingrid Antonio, spokeswoman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. The complex has a total of 285 units.

“Crews are on scene to determine the source of the service interruption,” Antonio wrote in an email. “We are working to repair the problem as quickly as possible.”

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The Housing Authority expects gas service to be restored “within the next 24 hours,” she said just after 2 p.m. Monday.

All other utility services, such as hot water and electricity, are still operating normally, Antonio said in an email. Hot plates were made available for residents who would like to cook, Antonio said, and a food truck was on hand Sunday afternoon.

Workers on the scene of Poe Homes, where residents lost gas service Saturday due to an underground leak. July 25, 2021
Workers on the scene of Poe Homes, where residents lost gas service Saturday due to an underground leak. July 25, 2021 (Christine Condon Christine Condon/Baltimore Sun)

At 8:09 a.m. Saturday, someone called Baltimore Gas & Electric to report the odor of natural gas. Workers arrived at 8:22 a.m., and shut off gas service to the complex. They discovered that the issue was on the Poe Homes property, said Stephanie Weaver, spokeswoman for BGE, so it’s for the Housing Authority to address.

“We shut gas off obviously as a safety precaution,” Weaver said. “Until the customer repairs the issue, it’s in their wheelhouse.”

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Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott visited the complex with other city officials Saturday. He wrote on Twitter that crews were responding to an underground gas leak.

“Emergency services will be providing hot plates to every resident and working to restore service as soon as possible,” Scott wrote in a tweet.

Across the street from Poe Homes, a food truck from Shareef’s Grill was handing out free wraps and bags of chips Sunday afternoon. Inside Poe Homes’ Mutry Auditorium, housing authority staffers were preparing to give out boxed hot meals Sunday evening from Class Act Catering.

It was paid for by Washington D.C.-based World Central Kitchen, said Kwame Rose, who works with the charity. In total, the group provided 1,100 meals Sunday, Rose said, and plans to continue doing so until gas is restored.

Rose was in the neighborhood at Allen A.M.E. Church Saturday providing meals to residents when he heard about the outage.

“When residents were coming to get meals, they were like: ‘Yo, can we get extra? We don’t have any gas,’” Rose said.

Those food distribution events are poised to continue every Wednesday and Saturday, Rose added.

“Baltimore has a lot of challenges,” Rose said. “But I’m glad to be partnered with an organization like World Central Kitchen, where at least we can be a tangible solution.

The free meals are a welcome gesture, residents said, but the outage remains a vexing problem.

Mike King, a 33-year-old living at Poe Homes, said he discovered the outage Saturday morning.

“I thought I did something,” he said with a laugh.

By 2 p.m., residents received a notice about the outage, which stated gas could be restored by Monday or Tuesday, said Jasmine Morris, a 30-year-old resident. Antonio declined to comment on when service might be restored.

In the meantime, King said he’s been stopping by friends’ and relatives’ homes to cook meals. Sunday afternoon, he stood in line for a meal from the food truck.

Leslie Ware Jr., a former president of the Poe Homes Tenant Council, said it’s been frustrating to deal with the outage amid other problems.

Poe Homes resident Leslie Ware Jr. said it's been frustrating to be unable to use his gas stove to cook. He said he made a stop at the grocery store for fresh fruit to eat while the gas is out. Poe Homes residents lost gas service Saturday due to an underground leak.
Poe Homes resident Leslie Ware Jr. said it's been frustrating to be unable to use his gas stove to cook. He said he made a stop at the grocery store for fresh fruit to eat while the gas is out. Poe Homes residents lost gas service Saturday due to an underground leak. (Christine Condon Christine Condon/Baltimore Sun)

Last Sunday morning, a 45-year-old man was gunned down at the complex. He was taken to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

“The kids come outside and there’s blood and brains on the ground,” he said. “It’s miserable.”

Judi Wilkerson, a 78-year-old resident, said she’s most worried about how the outage will impact larger families living in Poe Homes.

“We’re doing what we can and making sandwiches,” she said. “The only thing I feel bad about is our children, because they don’t have what they supposed to have.”

She sat in the shade outside her home, among a collection of bright green plants, with Guy Wilson, a 57-year-old resident.

“So we’re just sitting here watching everything — enjoying our day,” she said, gazing at the construction crew nearby.

“That’s all you can do,” Wilson chimed in. He said he’s been making tuna sandwiches since the gas went out.

Residents of Poe Homes were given free meals from Shareef's Grill after they lost gas service Saturday due to an underground leak. July 25, 2021
Residents of Poe Homes were given free meals from Shareef's Grill after they lost gas service Saturday due to an underground leak. July 25, 2021 (Christine Condon Christine Condon/Baltimore Sun)

The outage reminded residents of previous problems at the complex. In June 2019, residents went five days without water after a main break. Public works officials said aging infrastructure was to blame. Donations of food and water poured in, as did portable bathrooms.

“Clearly it’s a challenge no one should be faced with,” City Councilman John Bullock said of the gas outage. “Unfortunately, we’ve had issues with infrastructure in the Poppleton and Poe Homes area.”

Lately, it feels like it’s one problem after another, Wilson said. He worried the electricity might go out next.

“I’ve got my flashlights though,” he joked.

Workers on the scene of Poe Homes, where residents lost gas service Saturday due to an underground leak. July 25, 2021
Workers on the scene of Poe Homes, where residents lost gas service Saturday due to an underground leak. July 25, 2021 (Christine Condon Christine Condon/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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