Springfield group aids families affected by deadly townhome explosion

Apr. 26—After an explosion killed two people and injured a baby, displacing at least eight families, St. Vincent de Paul in Springfield stepped in to provide aid and coordinate with other agencies.

The nonprofit is directly helping five families affected by an explosion on Home Road on April 8, including the family of two sisters who died from injuries sustained that day, Casey Rollins, director of St. Vincent de Paul, said. Rollins said the organization has offered aid to two other families and has been unable to reach another.

Crews responded to a report of a gas leak in the 1000 block of East Home Road at about 1 p.m. on April 8 in a four-unit townhome that is part of a larger complex at Ridgewood Court Townhomes. Crews had been dispatched for a natural gas leak and had arrived moments before the explosion.

Macdala and Edeline Ducatel, who were sisters who came from Haiti, died from their injuries in the hospital five days apart. An 11-month-old girl, the daughter of Macdala Ducatel, suffered burns and was released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon.

St. Vincent de Paul is helping individuals affected by the explosion by providing food, clothing, financial services and helping families find more permanent housing, Rollins said. She said Walmart donated enough bedding for 10-12 beds after she told them what they would need, and the nonprofit will help families furnish their new homes.

"It's amazing what people will do when you just ask them, just embrace them," Rollins said. "Sometimes just to hear a blanket request, it doesn't mean the same as when you call them and say, 'Will you get us this?'"

Rollins said all of the people displaced by the explosion are staying with family members or friends. Many had paid rent for the month but Rollins said the nonprofit is not aware of any compensation. Rollins said as far as she is aware, none of the tenants were under eviction or default.

Some of the people affected speak Haitian Creole, and St. Vincent de Paul, which has been providing services for an influx of immigrants from Haiti for about five years, helps with translation and documentation, Rollins said. She said the families affected are here legally, but need help with maintaining their status and getting work permits.

The nonprofit is also helping connect affected families with other agencies that can better suit some of their needs, Rollins said.

She said some of the families have turned down alternative housing options offered by Ridgewood Court, partially because living there would put their children in a different school district.

"At least one of the families feels even more displaced because the apartment offer she was given was not in the city school district and, and our children are already traumatized," Rollins said. "Now they don't want to have to change school districts."

Rollins said the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act — which provides aid to homeless children including in disaster situations — could apply in this case to allow the children to remain in their current school district if the family has to move.

Peggy Johnson, Haitian services facilitator for St. Vincent de Paul, said the nonprofit has been helping the father of the child who was injured in the fire with food, clothing and other needs because he lost everything in the explosion. She said she took the man shopping for baby supplies before his daughter was released from the hospital on Tuesday.

The Salvation Army will provide some rent assistance for the man, whose sister who works in Columbus and plans to move in with him to help him and the baby, Johnson said. He has been trying to get a work permit for more than a year and cannot work until he gets one.

Rollins said regardless of where a family affected by the explosion is staying, they are eligible to receive aid from St. Vincent de Paul.

Donations to support the victims of the explosion can drop off checks addressed to St. Vincent de Paul, located at 2415 E. High St., with a note in the memo field allocating the funds to the families affected by the explosion or the father of the 11-month-old girl.