Life in Blast Area: It Goes On in Eerily Quiet Ways

Times Staff Writer

Frida Papier, 79, stood alone in front of the West Wilshire Multipurpose Center in a light drizzle Wednesday afternoon, a bit perplexed at finding the senior citizens' center in the complex closed. She had gone there in search of a free meal.

"I walked so far to get here," said Papier, who lives about six blocks away at the massive Park La Brea housing complex adjacent to Farmers Market.

The closure of the shopping complex and evacuation of the surrounding four square blocks this week, after Sunday's devastating underground gas explosion, has disrupted the lives of many area residents, especially the elderly.

Like Papier, many of the elderly are without cars and count on nearby businesses for their needs. Some congregate in the area's coffee shops to meet and chat with friends.

Swallowed Pride

"So what are people like me supposed to do?" Papier asked. "Yesterday, I swallowed my pride and asked a neighbor for a ride to the grocery store. . . ."

The streets in the Park La Brea housing complex were particularly desolate Wednesday afternoon, as work crews at the explosion scene continued their round-the-clock efforts to control the escaping underground gas that caused the blast that injured 22 people.

Attendance at classes offered at community centers within the housing complex was down by half, the director said.

"People are worried and staying inside their apartments," a security guard said.

Area residents expressed varying degrees of apprehension over the possibility that other explosions may occur.

One woman said she keeps a bag packed by the door--"just in case."

Others on nearby residential streets say they plan to move or to sell their homes. However, some take a more philosophical view, maintaining that there is no safe place to live in the city.

'Little Inconvenient'

"It's been a little inconvenient, that's all," said Ruth Roe, 74, a resident of Park La Brea.

Roe also noted that she has been unable to do her routine banking, because the Gilmore Bank, closed since the explosion, has no branch offices.

Roe sympathized with older residents who, without cars, may be more inconvenienced than she is. She noted that bus routes that normally run through the housing complex have also been disrupted.

Ophelia Avazian, 70, who lives a few blocks away, said that since the explosion, she has been feeling "so restless at home that I come out here every few hours to see what's the latest.

'Scared to Death'

"I'm scared to death--and that's no joke," she said, adding that she plans to sell her home and move out of the area.

More immediate concerns, however, are the closed market, bank and beauty shop she patronizes at Farmers Market.

"It's been a terrible disruption," she said.

Anthony Teti, 26, who lives near Avazian, stood at a bus stop at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. His young son, sitting in a stroller, seemed captivated by the activities of work crews, firefighters and police officers.

Teti, who saw Sunday's explosion from his front yard, said a lot of the initial fear among residents on his block has subsided. Many of them moved in with relatives and friends in other areas of the city for the first few days after the explosion, he said. However, most have returned to their homes.

"At first my wife and I were scared too, but then we figured that L.A. is scary, period. So what are you going to do"?

Adding that the explosion has been a popular topic of conversation in the neighborhood, Teti said the incident "has probably brought more people together than normal."

There have also been other advantages, he said: "Less traffic, less crowds.

Nevertheless, Teti said his wife, who is expecting their second child, still worries about the hazardous underground gas in the area and they may move out.

Doubts Expressed

A coalition of homeowners, renters and community service groups held a press conference Wednesday night at a private home just three blocks from the explosion site. They expressed doubts concerning the safety of proposed construction in the vicinity, such as the Metro Rail subway project and a large hotel planned jointly by CBS and the Gilmore Corp.

"This time," said Richard Silverstein, western director for New Jewish Agenda, "the explosion took place in a relatively small store on a Sunday afternoon, when not many people were around. . . . What could happen if a similar explosion occurred beneath a 13-story hotel tower crowded with people. The result would be appalling."

"We must proceed carefully," said Terry Friedman of Bet Zedek, a legal service organization for indigent and elderly residents of the Fairfax District.

Times staff writer Leonard Greenwood contributed to this article

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