Some 500 refugees were packing a few days' worth of clothes and relocating from their north Omaha apartment complex late Thursday in the wake of a massive, daylong city code inspection that uncovered multiple gas leaks and unsanitary conditions.

City officials said they had to evacuate each of the 100 units at the Yale Park Apartments at 34th and Lake Streets because of myriad problems, from unsafe electrical circuits to natural gas leaks to the presence of mice, bedbugs, lice and maggots.

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Stothert apartments mug

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert

“We don’t want them to think that this is what living in America is like and they’re just going to have to put up with the rats and the roaches and the bedbugs, because it’s not,” Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said.

The property owner denied that the conditions were as bad as the city described and said he was helping the tenants by keeping rents low.

The tenants are refugees from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Officials described the inspection, which involved at least 100 workers, as a humanitarian effort, with multiple agencies working to place the tenants in temporary housing at two city community centers — 120 people at Adams Park and 50 at Columbus Park. The rest made arrangements with family or friends.

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Yale Park Apartments map

An estimated 175 kids enrolled in the Omaha Pubic Schools live at the complex, and OPS staff scrambled to make sure parents and children arriving home from school were reunited before heading off to temporary quarters. Then there are dozens of toddlers and babies.

The Mayor’s Office said schoolchildren will be privately bused back to the apartment grounds Friday so they can take their normal OPS bus route. No children have been separated from parents or normal caregivers.

The residents can sleep, shower and eat at city community centers and will get help finding long-term housing, said Joanie Poore, vice president of Heartland Family Service. She anticipated that they’ll stay in the centers for a week or less, then move to other rental housing with help from the philanthropic community.

It’s not unusual for the city to close housing as unfit for human habitation. But the scale of Thursday’s action was unprecedented in recent Omaha history. No one could recall a similar event. Dave Fanslau, the city’s planning director, said nothing close to it had happened in his 29 years of working for the city.

“We’re doing humanitarian work, but the fact of the matter is, this is a tragedy,” said City Council President Ben Gray. He lamented that complaints only recently brought city enforcement to the complex, which he said has been a “rattrap and an eyesore” for years. City officials said they can’t inspect unless a formal complaint has been filed.

“It is fortunate that we have people that could come together very quickly to put a plan together and make that plan work,” Gray said.

Scott Lane, the city’s chief housing inspector, said inspectors found “astronomical” amounts of unsanitary conditions in more than 90 percent of the units. They found 27 electrical circuits in such bad shape they needed to be powered off. The Omaha Public Power District shut off power at five of the complex’s 13 buildings due to unsafe electricity.

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Scott Lane

Lane said next steps include the city giving the owner, Kay Anderson, a list of violations. He’ll have 30 days to make repairs.

“We don’t anticipate that can happen in 30 days,” Lane said.