SILVER SPRING, MD. (WUSA9) - Thursday evening, shortly before midnight, will mark one year since the Flower Branch explosion and fire killed seven people leaving dozens more displaced and injured.
Many people are still hurting but something more powerful also came out of that tragedy: love. WUSA9 got to see this alive and well when a survivor got to finally meet the first responder he said, saved his life.
The explosion threw 33-year-old Memar Demeke out of a second story apartment on August 10, 2016. He had burns and a shattered knee. Someone stopped to help, but Demeke says they ran away when they heard a second explosion.
Then, without hesitation, a Montgomery County Police Officer spotted Demeke, picked him up and carried him to safety. It took one year for the two to finally meet again, and when they did, it looked like Demeke didn’t want to let go.
You could hear the two as they hugged.
“Thank you so much. Thank you. I’m just glad that you made it out. Thank you. Thank you, thank you so much. Love you so much," said Demeke.
"Oh come on ... you’re going to make me cry. Don’t make me cry on camera," said Montgomery County Sgt. Troy Brenner.
It was a human moment in what has been a very tough year for everyone involved. Demeke used the word "confusing" to describe what it's like thinking back on what happened.
“I’m very thankful that I’m still alive," he said in one breath. "Sometimes, I feel guilty," he said in another.
The 33-year-old's aunt and uncle, Saeda Ibrahim and Aseged Mekonnen did not survive. Demeke says his uncle was his role model.
Demeke was visiting on a PHD studies break when authorities say a natural gas explosion consumed two Flower Branch apartment buildings at 8701 and 8703 Arliss St.
“Nobody was aware of what was happening inside the building, but you just came in and saved me. It’s unbelievable," said Demeke after meeting the Sgt. near the complex.
“It’s nice to have that one person who appreciates what you did," said Sgt. Brenner. He told WUSA9 Demeke was the only person he was able to reunite with after the explosion.
“To be honest with you, we need justice," said Demeke a day earlier.
Demeke part of part of a lawsuit filed against Washington Gas and Kay Management. Two different law practices filed various suits in Montgomery County, Maryland and in Washington D.C.
Demeke told us he lost all of his Ph.D work in the fire. He’s still recovering from a donated knee surgery. He says Washington Adventist Hospital provided his knee reconstruction surgery.
We talked to the Flower Branch survivor in his donated apartment. He says Congressman Jamie Raskin helped find him a place to stay so he could have the operation. Demeke also says generous donations from strangers, assistance from Montgomery County and the County Council have all helped him get this far.
He's now trying to get a U.S. work permit. Until then, he can't legally work in the U.S. He doesn't have an income and doesn’t know how he’s going to live next month or the month after that.
One thing he is sure of ...
“You are my hero," said Demeke, "I just would like to say Thank you. You did a very wonderful job. I always remember you.”
For the past year, the NTSB has been looking into how the explosion was able to happen. The big question is, “Is anyone at fault?”
WUSA9 learned there could be an update very soon -- within the coming week or so, according to an NTSB Spokesperson.
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