Gilo gas explosion, building’s residents express fear and dread

Linda Schvartz, only child of two Holocaust survivors, succumbs a week after blast; Young poisoning victims show marked improvement.

Neighbors of the family killed in last week’s Jerusalem gas explosion. (photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
Neighbors of the family killed in last week’s Jerusalem gas explosion.
(photo credit: DANIEL K. EISENBUD)
Their Gilo building partially cordoned off with metal barriers and signs warning of collapse a little more than a week after a gas explosion killed a family of three and took a fourth life Tuesday, residents expressed fear and dread over the seemingly tenuous state of affairs.
“It’s been a very hard week,” said Elinor Romi, a mother of three young daughters, as she stood roughly 50 meters from the site of the January 20 blast.
Avraham and Galit Tufan, and their two-year-old son, Yosef Chaim, died instantly in the explosion, which on Tuesday claimed an additional life, that of 50-year-old Linda Schvartz. Schvartz, the only child of two living Holocaust survivors, had been rushed to Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem in critical condition following the blast.
“All of us are very scared,” continued Romi as her 11- and six-year-old daughters, Stav and Shahar, stood by her side within view of the site. “We’re afraid of the dark, we’re afraid to sleep.”
Stav said she had been so traumatized that she has opted to sleep with Shahar for the past week.
“I’m afraid to fall asleep because something might happen,” said the 11-yearold. “I sleep with her even though I have my own room. I’m scared.”
Batia Elisha, who lives four entrances away, was walking her small dog near the site.
“It’s been very difficult,” she said. “When I go near there I get very sad because I knew them. They were wonderful people. My dog played with their dog.”
Asked if she remained shaken, she didn’t mince words.
“Of course! We’re all afraid of another explosion,” she exclaimed.
In an attempt to quell those fears, Supergas technicians turned off the gas for the entire complex as well as an adjacent building pending an ongoing investigation.
“They’re supposed to have a meeting with all of the tenants tomorrow to answer our questions and explain what happened, but we’re all still on edge,” Elisha said.
Her husband, Sion, said Supergas’s policy of inspecting the buildings’ gas lines only once every five years was now unacceptable. He added that when technicians respond to complaints of leaks, they appear incompetent.
“It’s bad enough that they only do the inspection twice every 10 years, but when I call them they don’t even check the heating, just the oven valves,” he said. “I don’t believe they’re properly trained to inspect the overall heating device.”
The unidentified technician arrested for suspected negligence following the explosion was freed by a judge one day later but was ordered to stay away from the blast site.
Lea Shapira, who lives a few doors down the street, also took issue with the company’s professionalism and due diligence.
“Many times when I walked out of my flat I smelled gas,” she said. “I would call them and many times they didn’t come. Sometimes they did come and just turned off the valve to the oven and the smell would go away.”
Shapira said that after the gas heating system was installed in the apartments over 10 years ago, there had been “more gas leaks than you can imagine.”
After the building’s gas was shut off last Tuesday, Shapira bought electrical appliances to heat her apartment and food, and said she did not want the gas turned back on.
“We are very afraid now that when we are reconnected to the gas it will happen again,” she said. “Personally, I feel that we should not have gas at all because it’s dangerous. Four people have died because of it. I don’t feel safe at home now, and the only way I will feel safe is if there is no gas anymore.”
Following a separate tragedy that rattled the capital 48-hours after the explosion, two brothers from the Givat Mordechai neighborhood who had been poisoned by pesticide were said on Tuesday morning to be making a marked improvement.
An official at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel in Petah Tikva said the heart of Michael Gross, 7, had resumed beating independently of life support, while his brother Yitzhak, 5, had been removed from an advanced respirator.
The poisoning came after an exterminator treated the family’s apartment with chemicals. The boys’ sisters, Yael, 2, and Avigail, 4, died within 24 hours.
On Tuesday the parents, Shimon and Michal Gross, remained at their sons’ bedsides, where they have been holding prayer vigils.
The exterminator was arrested hours after the girls died and remains under house arrest pending a police investigation.