As Evacuations Continue, Neighbors Gather To Grill Atmos Energy

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City officials and Atmos Energy representatives spoke to a packed house Tuesday night at a community meeting at Foster Elementary (Photo courtesy Laura Cadena).

Neighborhoods near the site of Friday’s fatal home explosion will continue to be wary after more rounds of evacuations continue to be announced daily — including the fire station closest to the explosion site.

The most recent round of evacuations was announced by Atmos Energy around noon Wednesday, and includes the 3800 block of Cortez (even addresses only) and the 3800 block of Wemdon (odd addresses only). This is addition to a raft of them announced yesterday, and also includes Fire Station #43 on Lombardy Lane, where crews found a gas leak last night.

For now, Engine 43 and Truck 43 will respond from Fire Station 35 on Walnut Hill Lane. Officials say there is no timeline as to when firefighters will be able to return.  Rescue 43 was to be dispatched from Station 42, but both Station 41 Preston Hollow and Station 42 near Love Field were evacuated Wednesday due to sewage backups at both locations.

Steve Matthews, director of governmental and public affairs with Atmos Energy said Wednesday afternoon that about 390 homes and 90 apartment units have been evacuated in the aftermath of Friday’s explosion.

The company also expanded its safety survey boundaries to Walnut Hill to the north, Webb Chapel to the west, Lenel Drive to the east and Northwest Highway to the south.

Wednesday afternoon, Atmos trucks and crews could be seen lining the west side of Marsh Lane from Forest Lane to Northwest Highway. Crews had also begun working on Forest Lane from Marsh west to approximately Cromwell Drive.

Last night, city council members Omar Narvaez and Adam Medrano, whose two districts were impacted by the explosion and subsequent surveying and repair effort Atmos Energy has embarked on, held a community meeting at Foster Elementary. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was also in attendance, as well as Dallas Fire and Rescue officials and Atmos Energy representatives. Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board, who have taken over the investigation into the explosion, declined to participate.

The meeting was packed, and at times contentious as frightened residents grilled Atmos representatives about a perceived disregard for previous reports of odors of gas, as well as a lack of communication with everyone affected by the evacuations — not just those that are staying in hotels paid for by the company.

Narvaez began the meeting with a moment of silence for Linda Rogers, the sixth grader who died in the Friday morning home explosion that kicked off the massive survey and repair effort.

Rawlings spoke to the crowd, first addressing the Rogers family. “I echo all the citizens of Dallas’ heavy hearts —  for your baby,” he said.  “I know it’s very hard, and it would be hard for me as well.”

Rawlings said that part of the meeting was to allow the community to come together and grieve, but “another part is getting together and getting information.”

The mayor told the crowd that across the country, cities are grappling with how to best monitor and replace aging infrastructure like gas lines. He said that they don’t know just yet what happened, but the city does continue to make repairs to infrastructure.

“We’re going to get through this. This is a tricky situation,” Rawlings said. “A life has been lost. Property has been lost. We’ve got infrastructure issues, but we will persevere and get through this.”

Neighbors pulled no punches, telling Atmos they did not feel safe, and that they did not trust the company to determine how safe the neighborhoods were anymore.

“Why did it take that third house?” one resident questioned, adding that two previous incidents did not spur the company to investigate closer before tragedy struck. “I don’t trust you at this moment  — I need someone else to come check, not just you guys.”

“How can we trust you?” asked another neighbor. “My friend barely made it out alive. How are you going to change this and fix this?”

“We have to work with you to rebuild trust. We understand that,” said Atmos Energy representative Jennifer Altieri, calling the effort to make repairs and ensure the safety of residents “unprecedented.”

Altieri said they are putting in state of the art pipe and crews are working around the clock to conduct the surveys, repair lines, and restore service safely.

“Atmos Energy has been throwing every resource that we have on making sure that you all are safe,” she said, trying to reassure the crowd gathered.  “NTSB has taken over this investigation. We are in agreement right now to let them take the questions. We want answers, too.”

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Atmos crews were out all over a pocket of North Dallas closest to the scene of a fatal home explosion last week (Photos by Bethany Erickson)

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson lives in a 1961 Fox and Jacobs home with her husband, a second-grader, and Conrad Bain the dog. If she won the lottery, she'd by an E. Faye Jones home. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Society of Professional Journalists. She doesn't like lima beans or the word moist.

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