Five days after a home explosion claimed the life of a sixth-grader and sent four of her family members to the hospital, Atmos Energy is still working to ascertain what happened — and to detect leaks throughout two neighborhoods.
Monday, the National Transportation Safety Board was on hand to begin investigating the explosion as well. Residents at the Chapel Creek apartments were evacuated on Sunday, and yesterday more streets were evacuated as more gas leaks were discovered.
This morning, Atmos Energy spokesperson Jennifer Altieri said that crews were going door to door to restore service to even-numbered homes in the 3700 and 3600 block of Cortez and odd-numbered homes on the 3600 and 3700 block of Bolivar.
Altieri said that the energy company estimates that 300 homes remain evacuated. Yesterday, Atmos ordered additional evacuations of a block bordered by Matador Drive, Park Lane, Mixon Drive, and Marsh Lane.
As more leaks are detected, residents in the areas closest to the sporadic evacuations are on edge.
“We need a long-term and broad-reaching plan from Atmos, since most of Midway Hollow was built about the same time,” Lynnette Friedrich said. “‘that makes gas lines and infrastructure 65 plus years old. Surely as a utility provider they’re required to proactively have a plan to test/review/update/replace lines versus being only reactive?”
“What are we, the neighborhood, suppose to do?” Melody Ostman said. “For the most part ALL the original houses are gas – gas stoves, gas heat, gas hot water heaters.”
“It’s winter, even if it wasn’t, how do you live without heat, hot water, a way to cook?” she continued. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood since 1978. The utility companies have done nothing to keep up their end by maintaining their gas lines/equipment. I’m scared and pissed.”
Another former neighbor said that she’s had concerns about natural gas smells back when she lived on Dunhaven, a street that traverses Midway Hollow. Her concerns about the smell began on the first day she moved into her home.
“When I lived on Dunhaven, I smelled gas shortly after moving in,” says TK (who asked that we not use her name). “I smelled it in the alleyway behind the house, when I took out my garbage. I called Atmos and they came out promptly, checked everything and replaced my gas meter.”
She says the Atmos repair crew told her they had plans to replace all the lines, in the neighborhood, something she says she remembers well because it made her realize there could be a lot of disruption in the neighborhood, which she braced for.
“But it never happened,” she said. “I lived there for two years. I was led to believe they had plans to replace the lines in the alleyways. But to the best of my knowledge, it never happened, at least in my neighborhood. I was never notified of the service.”
She also knows that shortly after she moved to the neighborhood, Dallas experienced a rash of “crazy earthquakes — one I thought the house had been hit by a truck (never having experienced an earthquake before). It actually rumbled.”
Lesley Ostman said she worried about all the construction being done in the neighborhood as well — and whether subpar work could exacerbate the issue. She said after witnessing crews at one house doing work that was obviously not up to code, she reported it. That incident weighed on her mind this week.
“If there are workers taking those kinds of shortcuts, is the same being done when it comes to dealing with something as serious as the gas lines?” she asked. “Houses are being torn down and built at an incredibly fast rate, I don’t think it’s out of line to wonder.”
“I think your observations are more than fair,” her neighbor, Stacy Sheen, said. “There’s a new house on my street and I know they started construction without getting the permits. None of the lines were marked either so the workers very easily could have caused a serious problem.”
“The city got involved and monitored the situation after the builder was forced to get the permits,” she added. “It certainly makes me wonder if that is the norm or the exception.”
Dallas city councilmen Adam Medrano and Omar Narvaez, whose districts are impacted by the incidents and the investigation, have been working double time on social media and on-site to make sure they can assuage the concerns of residents. The two are also holding an information meeting tonight at Foster Elementary — which was evacuated Friday but deemed safe by Sunday night — at 6 p.m. Medrano, Narvaez, and representatives from Atmos Energy will be on hand.
Atmos has a 24-hour call center for residents who need shelter, transportation, or other services (972-964-4191), and a command post is located at the intersection of Webb Chapel and Larga Drive, where residents can also find representatives.
The task of checking lines and then checking each home is time-consuming.
“Atmos Energy technicians will need to unlock the meters, relight all pilots and test all appliances for safety before they move on to the next home,” Dallas assistant city manager Jon Fortune said. “In the event an appliance does not qualify to relight, there will be plumbers onsite to make repairs at no cost to the customer.”
If nobody is home at the time Atmos knocks, a door tag will be left giving instructions on who to contact to restore services.
Dallas Fire and Rescue remains on the scene while Atmos crews work, Fortune added.
Last night, Altieri gave a quick press conference to update reporters on the progress made. In addition to explaining the process of restoring service to the affected neighborhoods, she told journalists that it could take seven to 10 days to complete the entire process — but that could be delayed because of the rain expected this week.
Atmos also worked with Dallas ISD on a plan to extend bus service to students who are displaced and living in hotels during the evacuations. Altieri asked parents to call the hotline to alert them to any transportation needs for their students.
But she also stressed that the company knew people were unnerved and scared and sought to reassure them.
“We’re really going above and beyond in knowing that our system is safe and that everybody feels safe going back into their homes,” Altieri said. “We’ve heard the community, we understand and we’re not going to let you back in until it’s 100 percent safe. So we’re just taking some added precautions there.”
CandysDirt.com founder and publisher Candy Evans contributed to this report.