PG&E sets aside $100 million for fire victims
September 14, 2010 3:54 PM
As residents of San Bruno, Calif. search for answers in the wake of the Sept. 9 gas line explosion and fire that killed seven people and destroyed 37 homes, federal and state officials announced Sept. 13 that an investigation of two segments of pipe that could be the cause of the explosion is underway.
The source of the explosion was a gas line near 132 Glenview Drive, according to National Transportation Safety Board and Pacific, Gas and Electric Co. spokespersons. NTSB and PG&E are heading the investigation.
Officials also attempted to give members of the rattled San Bruno community reassurance and a sense of direction.
"(We will) do whatever we can to make things work for all of us," said California State Sen. Leland Yee. "It's going to take quite some time for all of us to heal."
The California Public Utilities Commission released a 10-point checklist to ensure the investigation of other pipelines is successful, said Richard W. Clark, director of consumer protection and safety for CPUC.
The most important points on the list are reducing gas pressure and conducting inspections across California, Clark said in a town hall meeting at the Church of the Highlands Sept. 13.
The fire that ripped through the quiet suburban community in San Mateo County started when a 30-inch high-pressure gas line ruptured at approximately 6:30 p.m. Sept. 9.
There have been reports that area residents smelled gas and experienced symptoms of fume exposure.
"I was driving home from work a few days ago," said John Caberto, a San Bruno resident who had to evacuate his house with his wife and daughter. "Coming up Glenview Drive, I felt dizzy and I felt lightheaded."
In order to help with the relief effort, PG&E officials announced Sept. 13 that they have set aside $100 million to aid the vulnerable city. Meanwhile, a preliminary damage assessment is being used as a way to declare emergency status, said Michael Haralambakis, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management.
As federal and state representatives attempt to ease the worries of the community, many residents are still looking for answers.
"Do you know what I am supposed to do to let people know that I'm safe?" asked Steve Pitkins, a veteran of the Vietnam War who had not been allowed to return home.
Pitkins, who was at the gym with his wife when the explosion occurred, said the blast brought back memories of his time in the military.
"It took me back to my years in the Army on the battlefield," Pitkins said. "It took me back to battlefield mode and I had this surreal calm, but my wife was frantic."
Nearly a week after the explosion, residents were anxious to return to their properties. Many people were allowed to return to their homes Sept. 12 and 13, but according to City Manager Connie Jackson, some areas are still to risky.
"There are many of you who have suffered such a large loss," Jackson said to more than 600 people at St. Robert's Catholic Church Sept. 11.
In order to maintain order during re-entry, residents met with authorities at Skyline College, about two miles from Glenview Drive. Residents received colored wristbands based on the condition of their homes.
Green wristbands mean the house is livable and residents may return home while yellow wristbands indicate the house is slightly damaged and not livable but residents may enter to retrieve items.
Red wristbands indicate the house has been completely destroyed or is structurally unsound and will need to be rebuilt.
"The city of San Bruno is not going to abandon anyone," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA).
Over the weekend, the American Red Cross received more donations and volunteers than it could handle.
"It's an amazing outpouring of support," said Mark Morodomi, a Red Cross volunteer.
"It's an all volunteer effort and we were very well prepared."
However, San Bruno still faces an uphill battle in restoring the community. It could be a year to 14 months before the rebuilding effort begins to take shape, Clark said.
"The sun is shining over there," said Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado during a Sept. 10 press conference on a sunny day in San Bruno. "But there is still a dark cloud over this city."
Illuminated by kaleidoscopic stained glass windows, residents prayed for the victims of the fire and instead of singing traditional hymns, the congregation sang, "Lean on Me."
"If there is a load you have to bear that you can't carry," a young girl sang before the audience, "I'm right up the road, I'll share your load."
As the girl's voice reverberated through the chamber, several women began to cry.
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