To the victims of the recent natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno who attended a community meeting Monday night, perhaps the only thing that became perfectly clear was that answers to all their questions would not be given anytime soon.
“They still haven’t answered the question,” resident Tina Pelligreni said from the back of the church where the meeting was held.
A PG&E official had just responded to a written query posed by her husband, Robert Pellegrini, who wanted to know if the company plans to move the gas line that ruptured Thursday, causing an explosion and fire that destroyed the Pellegrini’s home, along with at least 36 others.
The blast killed at least four people and injured more than 50.
The Pellegrinis and at least some of their neighbors want the 30-inch pipe removed, she said. Officials said it is too soon to say whether that will happen.
Monday’s meeting was held at the Church of the Highlands on Monterey Drive, not far from Claremont Drive, where the Pellegrinis’ house stood just days ago.
Led by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, the meeting brought together representatives from PG&E, the National Transportation Safety Board, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The officials were there to give the community updates on the investigation and a chance to ask questions.
Tina Pellegrini, wearing a white wristband that designated her as a resident of the affected area, was with her 4-year-old English bulldog, Gus, whom she brought along for moral support.
Neighbors walking by at the meeting recognized him and stopped to give him a pat on the head.
Seated in a pew in front of Pellegrini was Javier Fleites and his brother Harry Perez, whose home on Earl Drive was undamaged.
Fleites suffered a golf ball-size burn mark on his left arm as he ran door-to-door trying to help his neighbors flee the flames and intense heat.
He said the scene Thursday night was like something from outer space.
Through the flames, smoke and ash, he caught sight of an elderly neighbor whose house was engulfed in flames. He helped the neighbor to safety before trying to find more people.
At the meeting, canvas bags filled with items like donated school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste lined the back of the church.
While grateful for that kind of support, Pellegrini said she was more concerned with getting answers.
She may have to wait a while; PG&E senior vice president Ed Salas told the group it could take a year or longer before their questions are answered.
The NTSB is leading the investigation into the explosion and fire.
PG&E has pledged to spend up to $100 million to help the city and its residents recover from the disaster. Within the next week, the company plans to start giving residents “no-strings-attached” checks for up to $50,000 to help them get through the first phase of the recovery process.
When asked what happens to homeowners six months down the road, Geisha Williams, another PG&E senior vice president, sought to reassure the community.
“PG&E has been here 100 years. We are here today, and we will be here tomorrow,” she said. “We are in it for the long haul.”
Community members were told there is no guarantee that PG&E will remove the 30-inch pipe from beneath their homes.
Speier argued that homeowners and residents should be informed about pipelines coursing through their neighborhoods.
“This is absolutely a ‘right-to-know’ issue,” Speier said.
PG&E is investigating rumors–which have so far been unsubstantiated, Williams said–that residents reported smelling gas in the neighborhood in the days and weeks before the explosion.
The company said it is reviewing its tape-recorded customer service calls.
Investigators have not yet determined what caused the pipeline to rupture.
Anne Ward Ernst, Bay City News