Residents concerned after demolition damage

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WEIRTON — Les Washington watched the clean up crews trying to hose dirt and debris from his neighbors’ homes Saturday, waiting his turn.

“I didn’t think it’d be that bad, even after looking at the video on Facebook,” said Washington, whose home on Weir Avenue overlooks the pile of metal and debris that used to be Weirton Steel’s basic oxygen plant. “But it’s worse than I thought.”

Demolitions experts leveled the 51-year-old BOP around 7:15 a.m. Saturday, the explosion sending an enormous cloud of black smoke into the morning sky. The impact shook homes and rattled windows throughout town, but Washington and his neighbors on Weir Avenue took the brunt of it — screen doors twisted, windows shattered and foundations rattled.

“You couldn’t see anything for like three, four … maybe five minutes,” said Washington, who figures he was lucky: The dirt cloud infiltrated the homes where windows had blown out, but his held. His problem was the ash coating the outside of his home, and the foundation he says has shifted since the demolition process began months ago. “To look out and not be able to see anything, that was scary.”

The BOP was one of the old mill properties the Frontier Group of Companies purchased from ArcelorMittal in 2017. Buildings that could be saved were, and the rest are, or soon will be, de-constructed.

Frontier Chief Operating Officer Rob Zucklewski said cleanup crews hit the streets as soon as he got the all-clear from the demolition team and roads were declared hazard-free.

“We’ve been working diligently throughout the day, boarding up windows that were broken and cleaning up glass,” he said. “Now that (Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration’s) service vehicles are here, we’re going to start contacting homeowners.”

Frontier had offered residents living within 1,000 feet of the impact — that would be most, if not all, Weir Avenue residents — free breakfasts, though some, like Washington, opted to ride it out in their homes. Those unable to return home due to the dirt and damage or those with young kids will be booked into local hotels “until we clean it to the level they can come back,” Zuchlewski said. “I’ve stressed with them, the cleanup has to be to their satisfaction.”

Some homes “just had a dusting on the roof, front porch or steps,” and they’ve already been done, he said. “But when you get closer to the heart of the area, those are the homes that are taking longer.”

“I would expect, given the crew I’m watching right now, significant progress will be made today and hopefully by tomorrow we will have gotten all of the exteriors washed down, all the windows at least boarded up, if not replaced,” Zuchlewski said.

“It’s a terrible inconvenience for them, we recognize that,” he added. “We’re doing all we can to get things back to normal as soon as we can.”

Zuchlewski pointed out no one was hurt.

“That should be the benchmark for whether this was a success or not. We’re happy no body had a personal injury,” Zuchlewski said. “Property damage is not to be taken lightly, and we’re not taking it lightly, but we are taking care of it.”