El Paso, TX Apartment Complex Explosion, Apr 1973


El Paso, Tex. (AP) -- Eight persons were hospitalized today following an Easter sunrise natural gas explosion which killed seven people and leveled much of an old apartment complex near the downtown section.
The low, rumbling blast left seven of the brick veneer apartments in a pile of concrete and brick debris five feet deep.

Firemen, who blamed the explosion on a natural gas leak, said many of the victims were found in their beds or near them. The leak, they said, occurred where street repairs had been made earlier. Firemen said they found gas spewing through the street and as far as 100 feet from the apartments.

Investigators continued searching today for more leaks in the area. Fire Marshal Joe Wilson said the apartment manager, Hattie Spruiel, was told by residents Saturday they smelled gas "but nothing was done about it."
The dead were identified as RUBEN and CELIA PADILLA, both 17 and newly-weds; JOHN GARDNER; RAFAEL AGUIRRE, 30; his son, RAFAEL, JR., 5; MARIA AGUIRRE, believed to be the elder AGUIRRE'S wife; and MIGUEL VALLES, JR., 5, whose father was injured.

The L-shaped apartment complex was located in the 500 block of Piedras and the 2900 block of San Antonio Street, about a half-mile east of the downtown section.

Wilson said Mrs. Spruiel told him she had noticed a gas smell in the area for the past two years. He said, however, that neither the fire department nor the gas company had been notified.

EDNA WILLIAMS said she was reading the Bible in her home across the street when the blast occurred around 6:30 a.m.

"I heard a girl scream 'Help me.' I went running to this first apartment. We started digging those people out of this wreckage all this mess."

"But I was so scared and upset. I was trembling and everything. I don't know what happened to me. I was getting ready to go to church. But after that, I couldn't go because I felt I was needed someplace else," she said.

Witnesses said the buildings appeared to heave upward with the explosive shocks, then drop back to the ground in a dust and din-filled cloud of debris. "They collapsed rather than caving in from the outside walls," one fireman said.

"In 22 years in El Paso, this has been the worst gas explosion we've had," said Bruce Bissonette of the El Paso Times.

The Odessa American Texas 1973-04-23