Returning Home in San Bruno

By Lori Preuitt
|  Sunday, Sep 12, 2010  |  Updated 5:27 PM PDT
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Our cameras were allowed into the hot zone 24 hours after a <a title=PG&E pipe exploded destroying many lives and homes." />

Our cameras were allowed into the hot zone 24 hours after a PG&E pipe exploded destroying many lives and homes.

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Dozens of San Bruno residents received welcome news Sunday morning.  The 315 familes who live near the explosion zone, but did not suffer damage from Thursday's gas line explosion, were allowed to return to their homes.  There, other than some spoiled food, they found a home intact and ready to be lived in just four days after a natural gas piple exploded into a horrific fireball.

Late Sunday, the state ordered PG&E to inspect every natural gas line in the state. No timeline was given for the massive inspection order other than the use of the "immediate."

Also Sunday, most of the evacuated residents were escorted to their homes by police, fire personnel, and a representative of PG&E.   The escort was to assure gas and electric service is on in the home.  Phone service is expected to be spotted in the area for a few more days. 

Each home and vehicle in a 15 acre area has been tagged with a color.  Homes with green tags are not damaged in any way and  can be permanently reoccupied.   Yellow tagged  homes suffered some damage. Home with red tags are either destroyed or have major structural damage and must  be demolished or undergo major reconstruction before being occupied.  The only people who were allowed to move back into their homes Sunday were those with green tags. Those with yellow tags will only be allowed in for a time to gather their things.  A list of damaged homes can be found at this Web site.

Once home, many of them learned just how close they came to losing their home.  One home that suffered no damage looked directly down on the destroyed section of the neighborhood.

  • 315 homes have green tags
  • 10 have yellow tags
  • 49 have red tags

People with yellow and red tags will meet at the Senior Center off Crystal Springs Road Monday at 10 a.m. where they will learn more details on what happens next.

The San Mateo County coroner did not comment Sunday morning on the number of fatalities.  The official number stood at four people killed in the blast. Over the weekend, we learned there are other people who live in the neighborhood who are missing.  One family who lives near the blast zone said they are missing a father, son and grandmother.  They are identified as Greg Bullis, his son William and his mother Lavonne. They lived at 1690 Claremont Drive. Officials were saying Friday that there were no reports of missing, but that changed Saturday. The Bullis' were active members of Bethany Presbyterian Church.  Friends, who are members of the church, told the Mercury News they searched for the three at every hospital they could think of in the early hours after the explosion, but could not find them.  The paper said the coroner was headed to meet with members of the Bullis family late Saturday to take DNA swabs.  It's assumed they would be compared with the remains found at the fire scene Saturday.

So it is feared that the number of dead could go higher.  Four days after the blast, there remains confusion as to the number. Police Chief Neil Telford stated in a press release late Saturday that six people were missing and seven were dead, but he did not identify the missing or the dead.  NBC Bay Area is only aware of the three missing members of the Bullis family. Deputy Coroner April Florent said Saturday cadaver dogs made nine "hits" at the site of the disaster, but warned they could be reacting to dead animals.

Identified fatalities:

Missing:

  • Greg Bullis, 50
  • William Bullis, 16, Mills High School student
  • Lavonne Bullis, 80

We also learned this weekend, the specific section of gas pipeline that ruptured and exploded Thursday was ranked as high risk because it ran through a highly populated area.

The explosion created a crater 167 feet long and 26 feet  wide, according to NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart.  "This really emphasizes the magnitude of what occurred here," Hart  said.

Concern about whether similar pipes are under their homes had Bay Area residents flocking to Websites that list such things. This link to National Pipeline Mapping System was one such link that nearly shut down due to a high demand this weekend.

 The Associated Press obtained documents that showed that PG&E submitted paperwork to regulators that said a section of the same gas line, but about two and half miles from the blast site, was within "the top 100 highest risk line sections" in the utility's service territory.
     
The 30-inch pipe was installed in 1948, and was slated to be swapped for new 24-inch pipe. That project never happened.

Thursday explosion launched a 28-foot underground pipe about 100 feet into the air and on to the street.

National Transportation Safety Board's Vice Chairman Christopher Hart is on scene investigating what caused the first explosion which created a crater 167 feet long and 26 feet wide.

The lead NTSB investigator Ravindra Chhatre has more than 30 years experience with pipelines. 

His team is already at work. but we won't know for months what they found. The NTSB said he estimates it would be 14 to 18 months before they issue the final report and recommendations. And it looks like Chhatre and team will be the only source of information.  The NTSB has instructed PG&E, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials  Safety Management Administration, the California Public Utilities Commission  and other organizations to not entertain requests from media.

The following is a series of raw video clips from the scene and official and neighborhood folks talking about the fire.

Garvin Thomas walks with one man who just had to know if his house survived the fire.

This is the  first ground video from the scene Thursday night.

This is video from our chopper over the devastation Friday morning just after daylight.

Daylight reveals a welcome sight for one San Bruno homeowner who declares, "My house is still standing."

PG&E President Chris Johns talks about how his company is responding to the disaster.

A Southern California fire captain walks a reporter through a home with useful tips to get you ready for a potential gas leak.

 


 

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