Peninsula News

San Bruno residents returning home, death toll revised

Sunday, September 12, 2010
The NTSB gives the latest information about the San Bruno exlposion and fire. Residents and officials met to discuss the aftermath of the San Bruno exlposion and fire. Sen. Boxer talks about San bruno explosion San Bruno explosion damage San Bruno fire devastation tour NTSB holds a press conference on the San Bruno explosion Evacuees eager to return to neighborhood San Bruno press conference San Bruno explosion evacuees San Bruno explosion survivors Firefighters saved homes despite challenges

Dozens of people remain evacuated after Thursday night's explosion and fire along a PG&E gas pipeline in San Bruno.

Families are still waiting to get back into their homes to assess the damage and collect valuables, but the neighborhood is still considered a hazardous area. Authorities announced Saturday that most residents will be allowed to re-enter their homes beginning Sunday at noon. Residents need to be prepared to show identification to get into the area. On Saturday, six dog teams conducted another search for victims. As of late Saturday evening, seven people were dead and another six were missing.

The state of California and the city of San Bruno are moving the disaster into what they are a calling the "recovery phase." President Obama also sent a message to assure citizens affected by the fire that they will expedite funding and federal assistance to those in need.

Two state senators, including Mark Leno of San Francisco, are now planning an investigation and a public hearing into the cause of the explosion. They plan to schedule one or more hearings in the coming weeks.

The mayor of San Bruno and Sen. Barbara Boxer held a news conference Saturday focusing on the recovery phase and how the federal, state and city governments will be able aid those in need of assistance after the devastating fires. Boxer joined other federal, state and local officials Saturday morning on a tour of the Crestmoor Canyon site.

Boxer said the disaster was "a heartbreaker" that "raises a lot of questions" about the safety of other pipelines in residential areas.

The senator said the investigation, led by the National Transportation Safety Board, will "check if there was adequate maintenance on the pipeline, and any recent excavation on the pipeline," as well as "if PG&E had an emergency plan to respond to this, and how it was carried out."

Boxer called for the "need to accelerate inspections" of other pipelines in residential and urban areas around the state.

"I have to be very clear that we're trying to prevent this from ever happening again," she said.

Coroner identifies victims

Late Friday night, the San Mateo County Coroner's Office released the names of three of the people who were killed. Two of the victims are mother and daughter -- 44-year-old Jacqueline Greig and 13-year-old Janessa Grieg. Greig worked with the California Public Utilities Commission. The other victim has been identified as 20-year-old Jessica Morales. As of late Saturday evening, seven people were dead and another six were missing.

The names of the other victims have not yet been released, however Faye Wharton told ABC7 the body of her 80-year-old grandmother was found in the ruins of her home, which is right next to the explosion. She received word from authorities late Friday night. Her two aunts and uncle were also in the house. They made it out alive, but were severely burned.

Gas pipeline explodes

At 6:24 p.m. Thursday, an explosion and fireball erupted from near the intersection near Glenview Drive and Earl Avenue. People as far as one-half mile away say they felt the boom and heat of the explosion.

PG&E confirms a 30-inch natural gas line was the source of the explosion and fire. There has been no word on what caused the pipe to rupture, although PG&E President Chris Johns said the pipe was 40 to 50 years old.

A NTSB official said Saturday that a 28-foot long section of the pipe was blown 100 feet away from its original location. The explosion left a crater 167-feet long and 26-feet wide.

After burning out of control for hours, the blaze was finally contained Friday afternoon. 52 people were transported to area hospitals, three with critical burns. Four firefighters sustained minor injuries.

There was one report of a person looting one of the burned houses. That person also charged for assaulting an officer and arrested for trying to flee.

Rescue crews and home inspection crews performed a house-to-house search through the neighborhood. There were 37 structures destroyed and eight more homes that suffered major or minor damage. See which homes were destroyed here As of Saturday afternoon, 271 homes were inaccessible to residents but authorities say people will be able to return to their home beginning on Sunday.

Firefighting efforts hindered

Several factors conspired to hinder firefighting efforts.

The natural gas explosion ruptured a water main, shutting off water to many of the fire hydrants in the fire zone. It took about half an hour to reroute the water main.

In the meantime, firefighters went searching for the nearest working hydrant, a few thousand feet away.

San Bruno's fire chief said given the extent of the blazes, he is not sure a swifter response would have made much of a difference.

Injures at the Bothin Burn Center

Four burn victims are being treated at the Bothin Burn Center at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco. That center is internationally recognized for being one of the most advanced acute care centers for burn victims.

All of the victims are in critical condition according to Dr. Michael Kulick, who was the surgeon on duty when they were brought in Thursday night. Three patients have burns over 50 percent of their bodies, and the other one has burns on 40 percent of the body. Two doctors and 40 nurses were there to accept the patients.

What the victims face is difficult, with many procedures. They are breathing with a tube, they have been given fluids, and are stable. On Sunday Kulick will remove when he calls non-viable tissue. The final phase will be grafting skin from areas not burned onto the burned area. But all of these procedures could take up to two years.

The public has responded to the plight of San Bruno residents. At the Blood Centers of the Pacific, the wait is up to two hours to give blood. So many people turned out that they are suggesting donors come back another time, since they will need blood in the coming weeks.

Leaders offer aid

Lieutenant Gov. Abel Maldonado has declared a state of emergency in the area and joined other leaders in San Bruno Friday. Maldonado is acting governor while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is out of the country. Maldonado has briefed Schwarzenegger on the situation. Maria Shriver also visited the area on Friday.

PG&E President Chris Johns said at a Friday press conference that the company is committed to providing temporary housing, food, clothing and other essential needs to the displaced residents.

The state is also taking steps to ease the struggles of the victims. Maldonado announced that the state would waive fees for people replacing their drivers licenses and birth certificates as well as waive the waiting period for people looking for unemployment assistance.

Investigation begins

At least one person claims that residents had been complaining of the smell of natural gas for several days prior to the explosion. On Saturday, PG&E President Chris Johns addressed the reports and said officials have not found any records of calls to PG&E about a problem in the first nine days of September, or a record of their crews being in the area.

San Bruno police have declared the area crime scene. The National Transportation Safety Board said Friday that it has sent a four-member team to San Bruno to investigate. The impacted area includes the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Claremont Drive, the 900 block of Glenview Drive, the 1700 block of Earl Avenue, the 1100 block of Fairmont Drive and the 2700 block of Concord Way.

The California Public Utilities Commission has established a toll-free number and e-mail address for anyone who noticed the smell. People can call (800) 789-0550 or send an e-mail SBFire@cpuc.ca.gov if they smelled the gas.

The NTSB has also set up a tip line for their investigation. E-mail information to sanbruno@ntsb.gov

Are big pipelines safe?

Many people are wondering what the dangers are living close to large natural gas pipelines. ABC7's Dan Noyes looks into the safety issues of these major pipelines. More on that story here

The section of gas pipeline that ruptured and exploded was ranked as high risk because it ran through a highly populated area, state and federal authorities said Saturday. The pipeline had been installed at a time when the area was not as densely populated.

ABC7 Breaking News Coverage:
RAW SKY7 VIDEO: Friday morning over San Bruno
VIDEO: Photographer's first-hand account of devastation
VIDEO: Eyewitness account
PHOTOS: San Bruno explosion
VIDEO: "I thought - this is judgment day"
VIDEO: Fire consumes neighborhood
VIDEO: Photographer captures images moments after blast

The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.

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san bruno fire, san bruno, fire, PG&E, peninsula news
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