Nearly two years after the August 10, 2016 blast that killed seven people at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring, survivors are demanding better support from the Montgomery County government.
Through advocacy organization Action in Montgomery (AIM), the group of survivors met to address their concerns Tuesday night at JoAnn Leleck at Broad Acres Elementary School.
Survivors told their stories about how they lost their possessions along with how they were physically and mentally scarred by the natural gas explosion. They said since the accident, they have been forced to pay higher rents, haven't received adequate mental health treatment related to the trauma and that their opinions were left out of the 2016 county report that detailed the response to the tragedy.
Gustavo Zuniga spoke to the crowd, recounting how the roof fell inside his apartment, knocking him unconscious. He said the only reason that he is alive is because his wife was able to pull him from the rubble.
Zuniga told FOX 5 he wants the county to help survivors like him who are still struggling.
Four Montgomery County council members attended the meeting, including Hans Riemer, George Leventhal, Tom Hucker and Democratic nominee for county executive Marc Elrich. They pledged to support the victims in their requests for rental assistance, better mental health options and for survivors' opinions to be included in the county's report.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett was not at Tuesday night's meeting, but he released a letter to AIM saying in part, "The three requests I understand you will make are for more accessible mental health services, rental assistance, and including more input from victims to the evaluation of the County's response to the fire. I would be very happy to meet with representatives of AIM and victims to discuss these issues and the County's responses."
AIM said it will follow up with the county in three months to evaluate the demands made by survivors.
Lawsuits are still ongoing as a result of the explosion over the claims that residents reported the smell of gas prior to the accident.
The building management, Kay Apartment Communities, did not respond to FOX 5's request for comment as of Tuesday night.