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400 evacuated from apartments after multiple gas leaks found, two die

Residents there are being told to leave their homes immediately at the Allen Benedict Court apartments.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Residents at the Allen Benedict Court Apartments are being told to evacuate the property after multiple gas leaks were found and two people died.

RELATED: Two found dead inside units at Columbia apartment complex

Citing an "imminent danger to life," Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said his agency has been going door to door to check homes, and have discovered multiple gas leaks across the property.

Jenkins was joined by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, and Columbia Housing Authority CEO Gilbert Walker.

"This gas leak is not only significant, but consistent throughout the property," Benjamin said. 

About 411 residents in 26 buildings are affected. The public housing complex is nearly 80 years old, having been constructed in 1940. They're being sent to a variety of places, including the nearby Cecil Tillis Center, for temporary housing. 

Jenkins said 65 units were found to have levels of gas or carbon monoxide in them in a search conducted Thursday night into Wednesday morning. 

"Once we searched one we had multiple units with gas leaks, inside stoves, hot water heaters," Jenkins said.

Holbrooke said there were 'multiple' deficiencies found by code investigators.

Meanwhile, Coroner Gary Watts has identified the two people found dead inside the units as 61-year-old Calvin Witherspoon Jr. and 30-year-old Derrick Caldwell Roper. Watts said autopsy reports on how they died are pending. 

RELATED: Fire Department: At least 7 calls for 'suspicious odors' in 2018 at Allen Benedict Court

The men's bodies were discovered after someone reported one of them missing from work. When officers went to check out that report, they found that the other man also hadn't been heard from.

The men lived in different units in the J Building, separated by one vacant unit. 

RELATED: On Your Side: Taking a closer look at Carbon Monoxide detectors

Walker confirmed they'd had multiple reports and work orders for gas leaks over the years. When asked he said he promised to make those records public Friday.

He said they're working to find housing for the residents. 

Benjamin stated it's unclear if, or when, people will be allowed to move back in.

"It's going to have to be a pretty solid case made to us that the actions made here today," Benjamin said.

"It's trying on our souls and our hearts," the mayor added.

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