Image: File photo of 1985 MOVE siege
Peter Morgan  /  AP file
Smoke rises from the ashes of a West Philadelphia neighborhood in this May 14, 1985 photo, the morning after a siege between Philadelphia police and members of the radical group MOVE left 11 people dead and 61 homes destroyed.
updated 4/12/2005 6:46:17 AM ET 2005-04-12T10:46:17

Nearly 20 years after police bombed the headquarters of the militant group MOVE, a federal jury on Monday awarded $530,000 apiece to 24 homeowners who sued the city over the fatal bombing and failed attempts to rebuild.

“Thank the Lord, our day of deliverance has come,” Betty Mapp, one of the plaintiffs, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It took 20 years and now it’s over.”

On May 13, 1985, police trying to evict armed members of MOVE from a West Philadelphia rowhouse dropped an explosive from a helicopter. Police then ordered firefighters to keep their distance as flames killed six adults and five children and consumed 61 adjacent homes.

Embarrassed city officials promised to rebuild, but the new houses were defective and millions of dollars spent on repairs failed to solve the problems.

After John F. Street became mayor in 2000, he suspended the repair work, declared the buildings too dangerous to live in and offered the remaining families $150,000 each. Although 37 homeowners took the buyout, the remaining 24 sued, and the jury decided Monday to award them more than three times the city’s offer.

“The efforts of this administration were an honest try to resolve this matter fairly after we determined we could not repair the houses to a livable level,” Street said in a statement Monday. “In light of our attempts, we are deeply disappointed with the jury’s verdict today.”

Gerald Wallerstein, a lawyer for the city, had no comment on the verdict or whether the city would appeal.

Members of the MOVE cult adopted the surname Africa, ate raw food, espoused equality with animals and preached against technology. Neighbors complained that they shouted from bullhorns late into the night, were confrontational and unsanitary, and jogged on people’s roofs.

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