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Victims Sue Over D.C. Apartment Explosion

WASHINGTON (CN) - Twenty-nine victims of an explosion that rocked an apartment complex in a Washington, D.C., suburb in August sued the apartment's gas company and management firm Wednesday, saying they ignored complaints of a natural gas smell just before the tragedy.

The explosion and ensuing fire at the Flower Branch Apartments complex in Silver Spring, Md., killed seven people, injured more than 40, and left many more without their homes , according to a complaint filed in the D.C. Superior Court.

The fire spread so quickly through the four-story complex that some residents had to resort to dropping their babies from open windows to their neighbors on the ground in order to save them, the complaint says.

"The fire, caused by the explosion and fed by leaking natural gas, spread with such force and speed that the residents, most of whom had been asleep, had just seconds to escape," the 18-page complaint reads. "They were forced to use any possible means of getting out as the stairs and floors and walls collapsed around them. With the hallways full of smoke and flames, many had to jump off their balconies to the ground below."

The plaintiff victims say the Washington Gas Light Company, which supplied the complex's natural gas, and Kay Management Company, which managed the complex, ignored residents who reported the smell of natural gas in the building in the weeks leading up to the explosion.

One resident claims to have called 911 to report the smell of natural gas a month before the explosion, but neither Kay Management nor Washington Gas Light conducted inspections or repairs in response.

The victims claim if the companies had responded quickly to the complaints with inspections or an evacuation order, the people who died in the explosion would still be alive.

"Compounding the tragedy of this horrific event is the fact that it was entirely preventable," the complaint says.

Among those who joined the suit are Augusto Jimenez Jr. and Erick Jimenez, whose parents died in the blaze.

But those who did not lose loved ones in the fire still claim it caused them severe emotional damage. Some were displaced from their homes for days and when they returned, the husk of the buildings were still there, reminding them of the blaze.

The victims also say many lost all of their belongings or even their life savings because they had to flee the apartment so quickly to avoid getting caught in the fire.

The victims seek compensatory, economic and punitive damages on claims of wrongful death and negligence.

Kay Management said in a statement that it is "deeply saddened" by the effects of the natural gas explosion.

The statement goes on to "set the record straight," by describing what the company has done for residents in the wake of the explosion, including returning security deposits, refunding rent payments and dolling out $4,000 to each apartment in a mix of cash and credit to be used on future rent payments.

"First and foremost, our deepest and sincerest condolences remain with those impacted by what occurred in Silver Spring and we continue to support the community in every way we can," Washington Gas Light Company said in a separate statement. "As you know, as a signed party to the NTSB's investigation of this tragedy, we are precluded from making any public statements about the details of their work or about our work with them in helping to determine what happened at the Flower Branch apartments. Similarly, we will be unable to comment on any filed or pending litigation related to it. We would note that the NTSB does have a communications team to whom you can and should reach out."

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