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Helping residents following downtown apartment explosion

Explosion in Downtown Bakersfield Apartment, June 30, 2022
Explosion in Downtown Bakersfield Apartment, June 30, 2022
Explosion in Downtown Bakersfield Apartment, June 30, 2022
Posted at 5:27 PM, Jul 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-01 20:27:05-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Thursday's explosion at the 20th Park Apartments in Downtown Bakersfield has left physical and mental impacts on the residents there. 23ABC’s Kristin Vartan spoke with the mayor and a mental health official about what residents face.

The explosion happened in a matter of seconds but just like the gaping hole in the building, the effects of the blast continue to have a lasting impact.

There is still no update on the two people who suffered injuries in the explosion. They remain in the hospital as of Friday night.

However, for those who got out physically unscathed, there may be anxiety or fear following such a traumatic event. That’s why a behavioral health official says human-to-human contact has been crucial.

For one 20th Park Apartment resident, Mark Bennet, it was supposed to be a fresh start. He had just come home from the hospital following an extended procedure and gotten new furniture. As he sat down to watch television the explosion on the second floor happened.

“It just picked me up and threw me across the room. The length of my apartment. At that point, I must have been unconscious or something.”

Bennett says he lost everything in the place he called home for seven years. And he’s not alone. According to the Kern Housing Authority, twelve units were determined to be uninhabitable.

Governor Gavin Newsom had designated the 55-unit complex back in 2019 as housing for low-income families and veterans experiencing homelessness.

Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh says the city sprang into action immediately sending fire and police to the scene Thursday afternoon. Other community members did their part by handing out food and water for displaced residents.

“Many of the residents there, such as veterans, have already gone through trauma. And a tragedy like this can trigger PTSD. So it’s so important for us to be able to provide them that emotional support and to help them understand that we are there for them. Kern county cares. Kern county always unites, in situations like this.”

Mayor Goh then reached out to Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. That’s when four members of their Disaster Response Team, including Fernanda Ramirez, headed to 20th Street to provide that support.

“We tried to distract some kiddos that were out there just asking them what they like to do. We know kiddos like snacks so, we let them rummage through the bags to see what they want to eat. To kind of distract them because everybody [is thinking] what’s going on? Are we affected? The risk of am I going to be homeless? That way they don’t have to carry that burden by allowing us to provide that support and distraction.”

Ramirez and her team checked with ten residents on-site also providing contacts and resources to cope with any arising fears or anxiety. Ramirez adds KBHRS is in contact with the manager of the building and they’re hoping to provide those affected with a debrief once some time has passed. She points to this grounding technique to deal with such symptoms.

“For instance. We’re outside right now, so I’d be asking you 'can you tell me what colors you see outside? What noises do you hear outside?' That kind of just distracts you and helps you stay in your true moment."

Ramirez says it’s important not to overlook the mental health effects of traumatic events like these.

Mayor Goh says the housing authority will be working with their partnering agencies to get necessary items to residents in need.

23ABC followed up with the Bakersfield Fire Department and PG&E, the two agencies investigating the incident. City fire had no update, while PG&E did not get back to us by news time.