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After fireworks explosion batters street, shaken and angry residents question LAPD’s actions

An aerial image shows the remains of an armored truck after an explosion
An aerial image shows the remains of an armored Los Angeles Police Department tractor-trailer after fireworks exploded Wednesday evening.
(KTLA-TV Channel 5)

Residents of a South Los Angeles neighborhood were demanding answers Thursday after a Los Angeles Police Department fireworks seizure ended with a huge explosion that injured 17 people and left homes and cars damaged.

Observing the scene was Marta Elba, 61, who had walked from her home at Griffith Avenue and 28th Street to ask police how she could be reimbursed for a broken window caused by the blast.

Elba said police told her she needed to call her insurance company. She said she didn’t understand why, if the damage was caused by police.

Explosion damages homes and injures 17 people as a bomb squad tries to safely detonate homemade fireworks seized from a home.

“The damage was caused by them,” she said, nodding toward the site of the explosion. “The problem was here.”

Elba, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, said she was at home showering when she felt her house shake as if an earthquake had struck and heard what sounded like a very loud explosion. She ran outside where neighbors had gathered. “We were all trying to figure out what had happened,” she said.

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At home Thursday afternoon, she stood by the side of her house where the window had shattered. Broken glass remained on a panel and the rest of it had been swept up.

Juan Pena, who also lives at the house, said the explosion felt as if a large bomb had gone off.

He said he still needs to check the rest of the house for any other damage. “I don’t think they should have tried to detonate here,” Elba said.

“The city needs to take responsibility for all this,” Pena added.

The blast occurred Wednesday inside a special LAPD semi-truck that had been used to contain and safely detonate fireworks and other explosives.

The truck was parked in front of a house in a residential neighborhood where the fireworks were found. Both law enforcement officials and residents were in the area at the time.

An LAPD bomb squad transferred a portion of the improvised devices into the iron chamber of the truck, which with its outer containment shell was built to withstand an explosive force greater than from the amount that was placed inside, Police Chief Michel Moore said.

Police detonated some of the devices at 7:37 p.m., believing that the vehicle would be able to contain the explosion, but there was a “total catastrophic failure of that containment vehicle,” Moore said.

“Clearly, protocols were followed and pursued, but something happened in that containment vehicle that should have not happened and we don’t know why,” the chief said. “We intend to find out why.”

Moore promised a comprehensive review of the incident that would take into account the age of the containment vehicle and its history, as well as the power of the improvised explosives.

Pena and Elba said they know the family that lives across from the house where the fireworks were discovered. They said family members were home and suffered cuts to their faces from broken glass. They said the family is staying at a hotel and family members are still recovering from their injuries.

Pena said he wants to know what went wrong.

About six houses away, 25-year-old Celeste Garcia sat outside her apartment complex. She said the explosion shook her building and knocked out a painting and some decorations.

“It felt like a big earthquake,” she said. “You could hear the explosion. Honestly, I thought a bomb had gone off.”

Garcia said her aunt who was outside said she felt a gust of air from the explosion.

Two doors down, Louis Price, 53, said he felt that same gust. He said he was working on a friend’s car when he heard the explosion along with glass shattering. “I ducked,” he said. “That’s what you do because you never know when the next one is coming.”

He said a window on the apartment complex broke because of the explosion. He heard that windows of other buildings had also been broken.

“Why didn’t they do this somewhere else?” he said. “Why didn’t they water down the explosives and move them somewhere else?”

When the explosion happened, he said, he thought perhaps it was a terrorist attack because he had never heard such a loud explosion before.

“It takes a lot for a building to shake,” he said.

He said he’s glad no one was killed despite the damage and the scare for residents.

On Thursday, Valeria Guerrero started a GoFundMe account for her relatives affected by the blast. She said several members of her family were injured and hospitalized, plus they were displaced because the house was red-tagged and their vehicles were damaged.

“Our family home and means of transportation have been completely disrupted, and without these basic things, they have lost their livelihoods,” she wrote.

In the post she included photos of a family member in a hospital bed with facial cuts. Other photos show the family’s damaged house and vehicles with shattered windows and bent metal, including one car that flipped over from the explosion.

The family is in the process of finding temporary housing.


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