Residents Still Unable To Come Home After Gas Explosion Friday

explosion

Foster Elementary School students arrived at Cary Middle School Friday morning after a gas explosion at a nearby home prompted fire officials to evacuate most of the neighborhood (Photo courtesy Tom Erickson).

Atmos Energy and Dallas Fire and Rescue are still working to determine the cause of a deadly house explosion near Love Field and Midway Hollow that has resulted in the continued mandatory evacuation of parts of two neighborhoods.

The 12-year-old victim has been identified as Linda Rogers, a sixth grader at Uplift Williams Preparatory School in Dallas. A gas explosion at her home on Espanola Drive early Friday morning, fatally injured the little girl and sent four other people to Parkland Hospital.

In a letter sent to parents last night, her school said the Rogers family was “a long time family at Uplift Williams.”

“This is a heartbreaking loss for the Uplift Williams community,” the letter said. “We shared this news with our middle school scholars and recognize our primary or high school scholars may learn about this incident and need support processing their emotions.”

The letter said counselors were available throughout Friday to help staff and students process the information, and that the team would be a continued presence throughout next week as well. They are also providing parents with resources to help them talk to their children about grief.

The young girl’s cheerleading coach, LaToya Gibson, has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help the family pay for her funeral.

Atmos Energy has been working with DFR to determine the cause of the explosion, which was the third natural gas-related incident in a week in the neighborhood.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of the young girl at 3534 Espanola Drive this morning,” Atmos Energy president and CEO Mike Haefner said yesterday in a statement. “We express our sincere heartfelt condolences to her family.”

Later in the evening, the company issued an update, saying that the investigation would take time to determine what led to the incident.

“We are committed to finding answers and will provide updates as we have definitive information,” the company said. “We are working directly with affected residents and are providing overnight lodging to those unable to return to their homes.”

Those affected by the evacuation were first sent to Walnut Hill Recreation Center and Bachman Lake Recreation Center yesterday. Students at Stephen C. Foster Elementary were evacuated to nearby Cary Middle School and Thomas Jefferson High School, depending on grade level.

There is no word yet on where students will report if the evacuation extends through Monday.

“Both DFR and DPD will maintain a presence on location until Atmos Energy gives the ‘all clear,’” Dallas assistant city manager Jon Fortune said in a letter to the city council Friday. “DFR has established a Unified Command on scene with several City of Dallas services, Atmos Energy, volunteer agencies, apartment property owners, and the media.”

Fortune said that Atmos Energy crews have estimated that the location and repair of the damaged gas line grid may extend into Monday or later, and that DFR will maintain a presence on site to monitor the situation. Dallas police have also secured approximately 14 entry points to the affected area as well.

“Residences within the designated grid will be required to offer identification prior to being escorted by DFR firefighters to obtain medicines, personal effects, and/or pets,” Fortune said.

Atmos Energy set up a call center and website for residents to obtain information and updates on lodging and transportation as well.

“Atmos Energy will provide hotel rooms through Sunday to those affected by the evacuation, and is offering Uber services to those who do not have transportation,” Fortune said. “Atmos Energy will be providing pre-paid cards for incidentals to those residents affected by the evacuation.”

The deadly explosion — and news that it was the third incident in a week in the area — rattled those in areas adjacent to the evacuation area. Anne Harding, who lives less than a block away from Foster Elementary, said the proximity has her a little shaken.

“I have a gas furnace and gas water heater, and do worry that there is some issue,” she said. “However, the problem seems to be isolated to a specific three to four-block radius, which points to either outdated pipes in those older homes or a problem with lines in that area.”

“I have to trust the experts,” she said. “I can’t dwell on it or I’ll go crazy. But part of Mixon was closed off and two blocks were barricaded at Marsh and Mixon, which made it seem really close and real.”

Lesley Ostman, who lives in Midway Hollow, agreed that she’s worried for the adjacent neighborhoods, too.

“Since I learned last night that streets on the east side of Marsh have been evacuated, I am extremely concerned about the entire neighborhood,” she said. “ It’s brought on loads of anxiety for me but I’m really trying hard to not focus on what’s going on, I’m afraid I’ll lose my mind if I do.”

Linda Cooke said she’s had concerns about the integrity of the gas line in the area for a while — especially after a series of earthquakes rocked the area a few years ago.

“I have been concerned about the earthquake activity that started a few years ago and the impact on utilities and streets,” she said. “In addition to damage to my ceiling and cracks in my sidewalk, I have noticed several places where shifting of streets has occurred, evident as uneven pavement – Durango just west of Lenel and Lively on the curve between Lenel and Park, for instance.”

“A gas line in the alley of that area of Lively was dug up just yesterday,” she added. “So I think the potential for dangers may be more widespread than is known right now.”

All three agreed that the incident has left them with more questions than answers — and many worries.

“There are so many questions that I’m sure everyone has and we need answers,” Ostman said. “How worried do we need to be? Are they going to check every single gas line to confirm if there’s an issue? How did they determine that Bolivar and Cortez needed to be evacuated? Did something happen or did they trace the Durango and Espanola incidents to those streets?”

“I could keep going with the questions,” she said. “But basically, I’m pretty damn scared.”