Business

Calif. neighbors survey ruins of blasted hillside

SAN BRUNO, Calif. (AP) — Patrick Yu has had nightmares and headaches since a fireball from a natural gas explosion caused his ceiling to crash down next to him while he slept.

He was one of many residents who returned to the ruined hillsides of their suburban San Francisco neighborhood Sunday after Thursday’s pipeline blast and fire destroyed nearly 50 homes and damaged dozens of others.

The explosion prompted California regulators to order the utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, to survey all its natural gas lines in the state in hopes of heading off another disaster.

Returning residents were wearing wristbands that show police they live in the area.

Yu said he crouched in the doorway after the blast, thinking he was in the middle of an earthquake. When the shaking subsided, he found that the heat had warped the door so much he had to pull with all his strength to get out of the bedroom.

The 62-year-old learned Sunday that his house had been red-tagged, meaning it has extensive damage and will require closer inspection before authorities can declare it safe.

“I have lots of memories in that house,” Yu said. “Lots of stuff you can’t replace.”

A few blocks away, houses have collapsed into black and white debris on ground, with a smell like charcoal in the air. All that remains standing is a row of brick chimneys, while across the street, some homes are undamaged.

Pat and Roger Haro fared better. They and their dog, Rosie, have been living in a hotel room since Thursday after fleeing their home with the clothes they were wearing, dog food, water and an iPad.

When they returned, their home was marked with a green tag — indicating less damage than others with yellow or red tags — and their electricity was still off.

“Once I saw the house was still there, then I felt a whole lot better,” Pat Haro said. “I think we’ll be a tighter community.”

Investigators were still trying to confirm how many people died.

The remains of at least four people have been found, and authorities have said four are missing and at least 60 injured, some critically. Two people reported missing after the blast were located Sunday, city spokeswoman Robyn Thaw said.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said they’re still trying to confirm whether some of the remains are human and identify victims.

At a service Sunday morning at St. Robert’s Catholic Church, the Rev. Vincent Ring conducted a prayer for the victims.

“We turn to God and we ask for mercy upon all our brothers who are hurting so badly, whose lives have changed so drastically and whose help is so badly needed from us,” Ring said.

Meanwhile, local and federal officials are probing the cause of the explosion that blew a segment of pipe 28 feet long onto the street some 100 feet away, creating a crater 167 feet long and 26 feet wide.

A risky segment of the gas line was due to be replaced, the utility responsible said, because it ran through a heavily urbanized area and the likelihood of failure was “unacceptably high.” That 30-inch diameter pipe a few miles north was installed in 1948 and slated to be swapped for new, smaller pipe.

PG&E submitted paperwork to regulators for ongoing gas rate proceedings that said a section of the same gas line about two and a half miles away was within “the top 100 highest risk line sections” in the utility’s service territory, the documents show.