As children returned home from school to Mallard Apartments off Harden Street, they found men in hazmat suits outside their houses.
Some of the Columbia apartments were evacuated Wednesday after crews found elevated levels of toxic gases in several units, according to city police Chief Skip Holbrook.
Crews found gas leaks in six Mallard Apartments units, Holbrook said. The apartment complex on Howell Court is low-income housing.
Police first began inspecting the complex in 2018 after finding multiple code violations during a drug bust, Holbrook said. Wednesday, code enforcement inspectors were back at the apartment complex to follow-up on the recommended improvements.
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Holbrook said limited changes had been made at the complex.
Shortly after the inspection, crews were called out because of a suspected gas leak, Holbrook said.
Men in hazmat suits patrolled the complex, accompanied by at least five Columbia Fire Department trucks and hazmat vehicles.
At least six notices to evacuate were posted around the complex, but it did not appear that the entire complex has been ordered to vacate.
Leslie Henderson was one of the residents ordered to evacuate on a short notice. Henderson said she’d been “living in a dangerous situation” in her apartment paid for by vouchers from the Columbia Housing Authority.
The Columbia Housing Authority is not in charge of upkeep of the Mallard Apartments, but does subsidize some units there. The housing authority is also charged with running the Allen Benedict Apartments, which experienced a similar issue in January.
The property manager at Mallard Apartments could not be reached for comment.
Henderson said she’s experienced many issues while living at the complex, including not having hot water for days and issues with mold, leaks and electrical.
“Everyone keeps ignoring us,” Henderson said. “Just because we’re low-income, black doesn’t mean we don’t know wrong from right.”
The evacuation orders cite a lack of heat as the reason residents need to leave, along with “health and safety risks.” Henderson claims that her unit has not had heat since September, though she requested multiple times to get it fixed.
Henderson was given 48 hours to leave the complex.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to get to this point that some of us are homeless,” she said.
In January, a Columbia public-housing complex was evacuated after two men were found dead due to multiple gas leaks across the aging apartment buildings. In a letter, Columbia Fire Chief Aubry Jenkins said the residents of Allen Benedict Court were at a “severe risk” from the presence of natural gas.