5th body found after apartment explosion; search continues

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — A fifth body was recovered after an explosion and fire at an apartment complex in Maryland, authorities said Sunday as firefighters continued amid sweltering heat to comb through the rubble to search for several others who remain missing.

The explosion late Wednesday night sent debris hundreds of feet, and people more than a mile away reported the blast was strong enough to shake their homes.

Two bodies were recovered Thursday and another one was found Friday. The fourth and fifth bodies were found Sunday. The victims have been transported to the office of the chief medical examiner in Baltimore and haven’t been identified.

Eight people remain unaccounted for, including two children, the Montgomery County Police Department said. Police say they believe the bodies that have been found are those of four of the eight unaccounted-for people.

More than 100 local and federal officials were on scene Sunday battling dangerously high temperatures to search for the missing and gather evidence to determine the cause of the explosion, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service. Officials urged the public to be patient as the heat and concerns about the structure collapsing have slowed their efforts.

“We would like to do this more quickly. We just simply can’t. It’s too dangerous,” Dave Steckel, the county’s acting fire chief, told reporters Sunday. “We have to be very careful and methodical with what we do so we don’t make this tragedy worse than it already is,” he said.

The cause of the explosion remains under investigation, officials said. Residents reported smelling gas prior to the explosion, and officials responded to calls for a potential gas leak at the complex last month.

Authorities identified the people who are missing as: Saeda Ibrahim, age 41; Augusto Jimenez Sr., age 62; Maria Auxiliadorai Castellon-Martinez, age 53; Aseged Mekonen, age 34; Deibi “David” Samir Lainez Morales, age 8; Oscar Armando Ochoa, age 55; Fernando Josue Hernandez Orellana, age 3; Saul Paniagua, age 65.

The Montgomery County Police Department said those people are believed to be in one of the apartment buildings at the time of the explosion. The department said detectives haven’t been able to confirm that Ochoa was in the building at the time of the fire.

Authorities are urging anyone with information on the whereabouts of those missing to contact law enforcement.

WTOP’s Teta Alim contributed to this report.

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