San Bruno residents still out of homes
September 11, 2010 9:30 PM
John and Lidia Caberto will have to wait until late Sept. 12 at the earliest before they can see their home in San Bruno, Calif. since they evacuated Thursday evening, city officials said.
Police also said that the number of deaths has increased to seven from a previously reported four, according to a press release by San Bruno Police Chief Neil Telford. Officials said that six people are still missing.
A town hall meeting organized by different city agencies held at St. Roberts Catholic Church in San Bruno attempted to answer the community's questions about the effect of a Sept. 9 fire has had.
Among the crowd were the Cabertos.
Speaking in front of the more than 600 people in the crowded church, San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane thanked the first responders and the rescue personnel for helping battle the fire. The packed church erupted into applause, turning into a standing ovation moments later.
Mayor Ruane then introduced City Manager Connie Jackson. She broke the news to the displaced residents expecting to be able to go home today.
"There are many of you who have suffered such a large loss," she said. "There are approximately 271 homes that are inaccessible. The vast majority will be accessible tomorrow."
Elaborating on the process, Jackson said that the city is working out the final re-entry plan details, also saying that the staging area for the re-entry would be at an off-site location to be announced early Sunday morning.
The process would include the residents who have been displaced verifying their identities with authorities and receiving wristbands according to the status of their home.
A green wristband means that the house is livable and the resident would be allowed to return home as soon as the city gives permission.
Yellow wristbands mean the house is slightly damaged and not livable but residents may enter to retrieve items.
Red means the house has been completely destroyed or is structurally unsound and will need to be rebuilt.
Those residents with houses with the red tag are going to rely on the city services longer. In the meantime, residents have received support from the city recreation center which has been converted into a local assistance center. As donations have flooded into San Bruno through the Red Cross, they have stopped asking for goods donations and prefer money to help buy necessary items for the victims.
As residents try to cope with their losses, others are making sure their insurance and other paperwork is up to date with the various services offered at the assistance center. The Cabertos have made sure that everything this covered, coming back another day for confirmation.
The Cabertos have spent the last two days staying in local lodging, having nothing but what they left their house with the night of the fire.
"I was getting something to eat in the kitchen," John Caberto said. He and his wife were home at 6 p.m. a block away from the epicenter of the explosion and beginning of the fire.
"I was watching T.V. in the bedroom," Lidia Caberto said, as she recounted the events of the night. At 6:10 p.m., there was a shockwave. "The house was shaking," she said. "There was a big flash, no smoke, just red flame. I went outside and you could feel the heat."
"As soon as I walked down the hallway and past the garage, I could just feel the heat on my face as I turned it away," John Caberto said. "It was like turning on an oven at 400 degrees or higher, opening the door, and putting your face to it. Just a wall of heat."
The Cabertos watched the fire in the distance momentarily as they decided it was time to evacuate. They heard fire engine sirens five to ten minutes later as they were making their way out.
They grabbed their ten-year-old daughter, who didn't have shoes on, ran out the house, and drove off in the car needing to pick up their other daughter from cross-country practice and their son from soccer practice across the city.
"Don't cry," John Caberto said to his shoeless daughter as she fell on the way to the car. "We gotta leave."
They checked into a local inn and didn't hear anything about the fire until 8 p.m. when they turned on the news.
With some news reports saying local residents have smelled gas for the past few days, John Caberto recalls an incident that left him pensive.
"I was driving home from work a few days ago," he said. "Coming up Glenview street, I felt dizzy and I felt lightheaded." He thinks it may have been the gas pooling in a dip in the street.
Having assured their extended family that they're OK, they're now waiting for the permission to go back home and try to rebuild their lives after such a tragic incident in a secluded community.
"These guys are doing a good job," John Caberto said about the city's efforts to restore everyone's life before the fire.
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