Search for Missing Continues at California Gas Explosion SiteSep 13, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
People in San Bruno, California were allowed into their homes yesterday, after last week’s massive gas pipeline explosion devastated the San Francisco suburb. The death toll remains at four, but several people are still missing.
The explosion, which occurred last Thursday around 6:00 p.m. local time, shot a fireball more than 1,000 feet in the air, and sent fire tearing across several blocks. According to a CNN report, the blast sent concrete flying, and the heat from the flames melted tail lights on cars blocks away from the blaze.
A Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) spokesman said last Friday that the company’s gas transmission line ruptured, leading to the blaze. It is not known what caused the rupture. According to a CNN report, the ruptured line was installed in 1948, and had a “relatively high risk and likelihood of failure,” according to a PG&E document obtained by the network. The document recommended the line be replaced because of its proximity to a populated area.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the gas line had an unusual construction, in that it contained a longitudinal seam and numerous welds indicating it had been made from many small segments of steel pipe. It’s not known yet if the numerous welds could have weakened the pipe. A 28-foot section of the pipe has been excavated and will be sent to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) metallurgy labs in Washington for study.
According to Bloomberg News, a PG&E spokesman said the company inspected the pipeline in November and performed an annual gas-leak assessment in March. However, the official would not discuss the results of the inspections.
The blast and resulting inferno injured 52 people and destroyed 37 homes. Another four people remained unaccounted for Sunday. Additional remains have been discovered, and are being tested to determine their origin and identity.
Residents returned to 293 of the 377 homes in the neighborhood over a three-and-a-half-hour period Sunday afternoon. The 84 homes still off limits were either destroyed, have extensive damage or are on a police perimeter that encompasses the zone closest to the blast site.
Meanwhile, the California Public Utilities Commission has ordered PG&E to inspect all of its natural gas pipelines in the state, and to focus on high-pressure pipelines in heavily populated areas. The Commission also wants PG&E to detail how much it has spent to replace pipelines and ensure their safety since 2005.
Investigators are also looking into reports that residents in the area had made complaints to PG&E in the weeks prior to the blast about gas leaks in the neighborhood. PG&E has not been able to confirm those reports., and says it has searched about two thirds of its phone records from the neighborhood from Sept. 1 through Sept. 9.