Last night a neighborhood exploded. One minute people were cooking dinner or sitting down to watch the football game or the news, and the next, their neighborhood was rocked by what felt like a terrible earthquake and then it just...exploded.
There will be investigations and there will be denials and equivocation, but I've managed to put this much together from tweets and reports posted to journalists' blogs:
- The ruptured main belongs to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)
- The pipe that ruptured was installed in 1948
- Residents in the area had smelled gas for 3 weeks. When it was reported, some were told to shut their garage doors; others were told not to worry about it. (note: those tweets were people reacting in real time to TV reports and interviews)
- People are still missing. Expect the death toll to rise.
- The force of the explosion also stopped the water supply, making it much more difficult to fight the fire.
- PG&E's president was interviewed, but managed to cover himself and duck any hard questions in the process about whether reports of a gas leak had not received priority attention.
- At the time of this writing, it is reported that 45 homes have been lost with hundreds more damaged.
A neighborhood exploded. Just like that. It was there one minute, gone the next, apparently the victim of a deteriorating 62-year old cylinder in the ground that wore out, blew out, and exploded after rupturing the ground above it. That cylinder is just one of many old, deteriorating lines.
And right now, early in the game, we're left with questions about whether that pipe was properly maintained, whether the right amount of attention was paid to reports of a gas leak in the area, and whether PG&E has adequately invested in keeping their equipment safe and up-to-date.
This is a company that spent $46 million dollars to buy a California ballot initiative in the primary to keep municipalities from maintaining their own utilities.
I wonder whether $46 million would have been enough to maintain safe pipeline delivery lines to neighborhoods so they don't blow up. I wonder whether conservatives give a damn when an entire neighborhood spontaneously combusts. I wonder whether they have a fixed number of dead people in their minds before they actually treat our infrastructure problems in this country like something worth their attention. I wonder how they look themselves in the mirror at night.