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November 27, 1999
Gas Leak Claims New Teen Immigrant
R S Shankar
Like any other immigrant, Seetha Reddy too came to America with a dream. The 17-year-old wanted to have the best of college education and a professional life.
On Wednesday, when her friends and neighbors were preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday, Seetha Reddy was dying in her apartment in Berkeley. Her older sister by her side was also unconscious.
While the hospital found Seetha dead on arrival, her sister was treated for a few hours and released.
Authorities blamed a defective gas heater for releasing the colorless, odorless carbon monoxide that poisoned them and led to the evacuation and relocation of over 50 people in the three-story complex.
Help had come too late to Seetha, who had arrived from India a few months ago, to join her sister, 20. The two had moved into the apartment complex about six weeks ago.
The building -- which holds several penthouses, a swimming pool and 24-hour security -- belongs to Reddy Realty, owned by local businessman Rama Reddy who had bought it five months ago. The Reddy sisters were not related to the landlord, other tenants said.
The investigation into the gas leak was continuing but officials said recent work on the roof of the complex might have blocked the vents.
The police and other officials told reporters that the carbon monoxide levels were more than 20 times the standard amount. The level was so high that it was beyond what the measuring device could calibrate, said Jonathan Franks, an official. He said 27 units in the 105-unit complex were closed off, sending residents to look for temporary shelter.
Franks said people were in potential danger, adding that if some tenants had not alerted others, there would have been many more deaths.
The number of those displaced could not be verified, but a police official said most residents found shelter through their family, friends or at motels.
A police investigation was not being pursued, according to police.
A company employee said the firm hadn't received any complaints about heaters.
Rama Reddy described himself as a "problem solver," and added that if anyone had problems with their apartment he was duty-bound to fix them.
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