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Residents: PG&E Worked at Blast Site

Firefighters investigate massive crater at the scene of a gas main explosion Sept. 10, 2010 in San Bruno
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Firefighters investigate massive crater at the scene of a gas main explosion Sept. 10, 2010 in San Bruno
 
Work crew alerted to gas odor, told residents to shut garage doors

Updated Friday, Sept. 10 at 5:57 p.m.

Some residents of the neighborhood at the epicenter of the PG&E gas main explosion in San Bruno last night now say that the utility had a crew doing work there for several days before the devastating blast.

Shane Musunu and his mother, Gayle Musunu, live at the corner of Glenview and Claremont streets where the explosion occurred. Both say that PG&E workers were at that site for three or four days earlier this week. Residents complained to the work crew about smelling gas, the Musunus said, and they were told to close their garage doors to avoid smelling the gas odor.

Gayle Musunu said she rescued her elderly mother from their house of 40 years, leading her out of the burning building. Both sustained burn injuries, and her mother is in San Francisco General Hospital on life support, according to Musunu. Gayle was treated and released for facial burns. They are staying with a friend in a house outside the affected area, which has been closed off by fire officials.

Residents of the San Bruno neighborhood devastated by Thursday’s explosion said PG&E investigated a pungent gas leak over the previous week but did not take action.

“They already knew about the leak and they didn’t do anything,” said Alex Monroy, who lives on Claremont Drive, not far from where a broken gas main burst into flames early Thursday evening, scorching everything around it.

PG&E has confirmed that one of its high-pressure natural gas transmission lines ruptured, causing the blaze that destroyed 38 homes, damaged 120 and killed at least three people. The explosion happened shortly after 6 p.m. on Thursday and left a 15-foot-deep crater in the pavement. A massive fireball raged for more than an hour, radiating heat that could be felt through closed car doors blocks away.

According to residents, the tragic disaster may have been preventable.

San Mateo Assemblyman Jerry Hill said he was "outraged" to learn that some residents had complained to PG&E about gas leaks in the neighborhood "for up to three weeks" before the explosion.

Hill said the pipe that ruptured was installed in 1948. 

"I will be working closely with the Public Utilities Commission to ensure that a thorough investigation is conducted into the cause of this fire," Hill said in a statement. 

California Public Utilities Commission spokesman Andrew Kotch told The Bay Citizen that investigators will be examining whether a leak occurred in the days leading up to the blast. 

"Obviously if there were leaks that is troubling, we will be looking into that as part of the investigation," Kotch said.

Kotch said penalties, fines and restitution for the victims are among the possible outcomes of that investigation, but said it was too early to tell if it could evolve into a criminal investigation.

Tim Gutierrez, another resident, told CBS 5 that he smelled a gas-like odor for several days before the accident. He said representatives of PG&E searched the neighborhood looking for a leak.

“A little later they took off and that was it,” said Gutierrez.

He said shortly afterwards, he believed that he smelled the same odor emanating from a sewer.

When asked his reaction to the blast, Gutierrez angrily replied: “What the hell PG&E is thinking, not correcting the problem.”

Paramedics evacuate seniors at the corner of Sneath Lane and Claremont Drive Sept. 9
Gerry Shih/The Bay Citizen
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Paramedics evacuate seniors at the corner of Sneath Lane and Claremont Drive Sept. 9
Gerry Shih/The Bay Citizen

Other families waiting with Monroy at the intersection of Sneath and Rollingwood said they had also heard reports of a leak in the days leading up to the explosion.

Dennis Haag, the San Bruno fire chief, was asked about the reports at a press conference late Thursday.

“This is the first we had any notice of it,” he said.

PG&E officials said they had not determined what caused the company’s gas line to rupture. Visiting the scene, PG&E President Christopher P. Johns said the company would “do the right thing” if it was found to be responsible.

The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, said it was launching a formal investigation into the explosion.

”The CPUC currently has an investigator on the scene to obtain evidence, and during the next few days will work with local officials and federal agencies to gather all relevant information about the incident and obtain information from Pacific Gas and Electric Company,” the commission said in a statement.

According to a report in the LA Times, eight investigators from the federal National Transportation Safety Board are already on the ground in San Bruno to begin an examination of the causes of the gas pipe explosion. But a final report will likely be more than a year in the making.

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