Richmond gas explosion victim still homeless, 14 months on

Sara Chung has still not been able to return to her wrecked home, 14 months after a gas explosion rocked her Steveston apartment complex

“You need to figure out where you’re going to stay. You have no home.”

Sara Chung vividly remembers the words of a Richmond firefighter more than a year ago, spoken a few hours after his crew had secured the aftermath of a massive gas explosion at a Steveston condo complex.

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Chung had dashed from work that afternoon to receive the bad news that her two-bedroom condo at the four-storey Nautica North – on No. 2 Road, south of Moncton Street – had been “devastated” by an explosion in the apartment above caused by a gas leak from a fireplace.

Around 12 units were affected by the blast, including Chung’s, which suffered mostly from a collapsed ceiling and walls due to severe water damage from above.

However, 14 months on from the accident, Chung is still homeless, despite every other displaced Nautica resident being back in their unit.

“The restoration is taking a ridiculously long time. There just seems to be one problem after another,” said Chung, referring to the restoration company contracted by her strata management firm since February.

“They keep on claiming there are other issues and they’re taking their sweet time with everything.

“They tried to land me with a $1,300 to fix a shut-off valve, which they claimed wasn’t connected to the explosion. I fought it and it has since been determined that it was connected to the explosion.

“I check on the unit at least once a week and they had been using my unit to store everyone else’s appliances and other materials. It’s a disgrace.”

A spokesperson for the strata management firm, Wynford, said it wasn’t at liberty to speak on behalf of the Nautica North strata corporation.

However, he did acknowledge that there “have been repairs unique to this unit that are resulting in some delays.

“To our understanding, there has been communication between the restoration company on the job and or the adjuster to the owner.”

Chung, who has been living with her parents and then her boyfriend since the July 2019 incident, laughed at the suggestion of communication between her and the restoration company.

“There is no indication of when I’ll be getting back in. The walls and ceiling are finished, but the kitchen cabinets are still completely ruined,” added Chung.

“I drop by regularly to check on the place and collect mail; rarely do I see them working in there.

“It’ so frustrating. I was hoping to get moved back in before school started, as my boyfriend has two kids.”

The strata insurance company is paying for the condo restoration, while Chung’s private insurance pays her only $50 a day ($350 a week) for living expenses while displaced.

“The personal insurance company are on me, demanding that I put pressure on the restoration company,” said Chung.

“Meantime, I still have to pay the hydro bill and all the other expenses. There was a $300 hydro bill for February when I wasn’t even living there. I had to pay it. It’s usually $100 a month in a cold winter.

“The restoration guys’ fans weren’t even running at the time. I asked if there was a grow-op in there.

“I just want to get back into my home.”

An accident investigation report released last December by Technical Safety B.C. (TSBC) determined that workers installing a fireplace in the condo above Chung caused the gas leak which resulted in the explosion and fire.

According to the report, the workers did not turn off the main gas supply, located in the building’s parkade, to the suites before starting the installation, which was confirmed by CCTV footage.

The report stated that the apartment complex’s building manager also told the TSBC he had not been asked by the workers — or any workers who had previously replaced fireplaces in the building — “to make arrangements to access suites with fireplaces attached to a common gas (pipe) in order to turn off and relight fireplace pilot lights.”

No one was injured in the blast.

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