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Calif. tells utility to examine pipelines

Order issued after fatal blast

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By Trevor Hunnicutt
Associated Press / September 13, 2010

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SAN BRUNO, Calif. — California regulators yesterday ordered Pacific Gas and Electric to survey all its natural gas lines in the state following the huge explosion in suburban San Francisco that killed at least four people.

The state Public Utilities Commission issued the order after the explosion in a San Bruno neighborhood Thursday night destroyed dozens of homes and left at least 60 injured, some critically.

As part of the order, the commission said PG&E must run leak surveys on all natural gas lines, with priority given to higher pressure pipelines and to lines in areas of high population density. The commission also plans to appoint a panel of experts to help with its investigation.

Residents returned to their scorched homes yesterday. They were accompanied by gas workers to help restore pilot lights and make sure it was safe to restore the power.

Investigators don’t know what caused the blast, and officials were still trying to determine how many people died.

The remains of at least four people have been found, and authorities have said five people are missing and at least are 60 injured, some critically. San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said officials are still trying to confirm whether some of the remains they found are human and identify victims.

PG&E said a nearby section of the pipeline was due to be replaced before the accident because it ran through a heavily urbanized area and the risk of failure was “unacceptably high.’’ That 30-inch-diameter pipe about 2.5 miles north was installed in 1948, and was slated to be swapped for a new 24-inch pipe.

Local and federal investigators are looking into 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.

Streets were crowded 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 other homes suffered less severe damage in the fire that raced across 15 acres.

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.’’

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