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Residents return home after California pipeline explosion

Tina Villareal leans on Nelson Alvarado while waiting to return to her home in San Bruno, Calif., on Sunday. A gas line rupture Thursday caused a deadly explosion that leveled dozens of homes.

Associated Press

Tina Villareal leans on Nelson Alvarado while waiting to return to her home in San Bruno, Calif., on Sunday. A gas line rupture Thursday caused a deadly explosion that leveled dozens of homes.

SAN BRUNO, Calif. — Residents returned Sunday to the ruined hillsides of their suburban San Francisco neighborhood, three days after a natural gas pipeline exploded into a deadly fireball.

A nearby 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 was to be swapped for new, smaller pipe.

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

Investigators still don't know what caused Thursday night's blast, and even as dozens of people returned to their scorched homes — accompanied by gas workers to help restore pilot lights and make sure it is safe to turn power back on — officials tried to confirm just 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 blast were located Sunday, city spokeswoman Robyn Thaw said.

Streets were crowded Sunday with PG&E cars and trucks, and representatives were handing out gift certificates for grocery stores. Nearly 50 homes were destroyed and seven severely damaged in the blast, while dozens of others suffered less severe damage in the fire that sped across 15 acres.

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

Pat and Roger Haro 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."

Patrick Yu said he has had nightmares and headaches since the fireball caused his ceiling to crash next to him on the bed while he slept.

Yu 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.

On Sunday morning, the 62-year-old learned 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."

Residents return home after California pipeline explosion 09/12/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 12, 2010 11:30pm]

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