In the days after the San Bruno gas line explosion, first responders described their initial impressions of the fiery scene as a vision of Armageddon, an upside down rocket launch and what appeared to many to be an airliner crash. It didn't immediately occur to even the most seasoned firefighters that the immense inferno they faced could have come from a failed natural gas pipeline.
At least four people needlessly lost their lives in the blast and blaze that destroyed 37 homes and burned many others. Approximately 60 people were injured; many suffering severe burns.
Residents Smelled Gas Prior to Blast
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal agency spearheading the investigation of the blast, said it's scrutinizing information that residents reported smelling natural gas in the days leading to the explosion.
The NTSB said a 29-foot section of the 30-inch steel pipe transmitting gas was blown 100 feet in the air. The pipe distributed a large volume of gas to both business and residential customers of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the pipeline's owner.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the pipes transport natural gas at a pressure of up to 1,400 pounds per square inch; a force approximately equal to the weight of five cars.
Liability for Devastation
PG&E is resisting calls to concede liability for its pipeline installed in 1956. Investigators are looking at whether corrosion played a part in the devastation, as it did in a 2000 New Mexico pipeline explosion that killed a dozen people.
The National Underwriter, an insurance industry publication, reports that the president of the Insurance Information Institute estimates losses will run into the tens of millions of dollars.
PG&E told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has approximately $992 million in liability insurance.
A number of industry observers have noted that when the San Bruno explosion cases begin to go to court, it might not be a matter of plaintiffs proving that PG&E bears responsibility for this travesty. It might well turn out that PG&E will instead have to show why it should not be held liable for the explosion of its pipeline and the destruction of lives and homes it caused.
Abandoned Plans to Repair Pipe
CNN reports that a consumer watchdog group says PG&E abandoned 2009 plans to replace a section of its aging pipeline a couple of miles from the pipeline that blew up. The energy giant never spent the $5 million it received in rate increases for the project.
There are also media reports that investigators are looking into sewer work the city was performing near the site of the pipeline eruption. The method used in the sewer work is known to pose dangers to pipes in the vicinity, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Victims of the San Bruno explosion are turning now to California personal injury lawyers to begin the process of filing legal claims for damages including deaths, injuries and loss of property. There might well be multiple parties bearing liability in the case. Attorneys experienced in personal injury and wrongful death cases will be examining evidence in conjunction with explosion forensics experts and others in coming days.
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