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People all over Northern California were taken aback last night when a gas explosion in San Bruno, Ca, was reported. San Bruno is a suburb of San Francisco, close to the San Francisco International Airport. Initial reports said a crash of a small plane was to blame for the explosion and resulting San Bruno fire, but it has now been discovered that a natural gas line exploded, killing at least four people and injuring as many as 50 or more. Three of the injured are suffering critical burns. The San Bruno fire destroyed 38 buildings (down from an early estimate of 53); seven more sustained major damage and 15 acres burned.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. President Chris Johns told the Associated Press Friday morning that a 30-inch gas pipe broke apart underground just before 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 9. Workers and investigators have not yet determined the cause of the pipe rupture. Residents in the area reported smelling gas just before the blast occurred. PG&E is checking phone records to see what, if any, reports may have come in around the time of the blast.
The liability for the death and destruction from the San Bruno fire and explosion will be assigned after investigations of the tragedy are complete. However, this is not the first time PG&E has had problems with a gas line explosion, and that may lead to legal responsibility for the wrongful deaths of those killed and the property destroyed.
The AP reports that in a gas line explosion that occurred in Rancho Cordova in 2008, it was found by the NTSB that PG&E had used the wrong kind of pipe to repair the line that exploded. In response to the investigation results, the energy company said it would take "extraordinary measures" to ensure another blast like that would never occur. If the company had failed in its duty to use the proper care in installing or maintaining the gas line that ruptured, they may have a major liability in any resulting legal actions.
Stephanie Mullen, a San Francisco based AP news editor, was in the area of the gas explosion in San Bruno when it occurred. "First, it was a low deep roar and everybody looked up, and we all knew something big was happening," she said. "Then there was a huge explosion with a ball of fire that went up behind the high school several thousand feet into the sky."
The AP reports Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, acting governor while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in Asia on a trade mission, declared a state of emergency in San Mateo County.
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