The man had lived in the rented apartment in the building on Hernalser Hauptstrasse since 1983. He had not paid any rent for a year and was due to be evicted on Thursday. Police believe he may have deliberately caused the explosion which caused parts of the building to collapse and a fire to break out. The 64-year-old caretaker of the building was killed in the explosion and three other people were seriously injured.
A bailiff went to the man’s apartment, which is on the ground floor of the building, at around 7:45am and opened the door with the help of a locksmith. The rush of oxygen as the door opened is thought to have caused the explosion. Police spokesman Paul Eidenberger said that the bailiff (39) and locksmith (48) were both seriously injured in the blast. The caretaker, who also has an apartment on the ground floor, died on Thursday morning shortly after being taken to hospital.
A two-week-old baby girl who was in the neighbouring apartment was hit on the head as parts of the wall crashed down on her, but doctors say her injuries are not life threatening.
The building itself was badly damaged, as were neighbouring buildings and vehicles parked outside. The residents of the affected building and the building next door had to be evacuated and have not yet been able to return to their homes. The electricity and gas supply to the building has been shut off and numerous windows are broken.
Vienna authorities say it’s rare that evictions end in such tragedy but that occasionally the bailiffs are confronted with disturbing scenes.
A similar case occurred in April 2014 in Vienna’s 1st district. A 47-year-old man was due to be evicted from his apartment and as an act of revenge he emptied a canister filled with 15 litres of petrol into the flat and set fire to it. This caused a fire in the building and the man’s neighbour, a 23-year-old woman, died when a dividing wall collapsed on her. The man was recently sentenced to life in prison.
In another tragic case a mother will appear in court this year, accused of killing her four-year-old daughter as the bailiffs came to evict them from their home in Vienna’s 17th district.