Even as city officials and Atmos Energy representatives were meeting Thursday night with press to provide an update on an unprecedented gas service shutdown for 2,800 homes in an area that surrounds the site of a fatal home explosion last week, thousands of the company’s customers were lined up outside two assistance centers, growing more frustrated by the hour.
The shut down may be going on schedule, but the people in line insisted the information and aid was not humming along in a similar fashion.
Greg Stubbs said he waited in line at Walnut Hill Recreation Center, one of two distribution points (the other is Bachman Lake), only to leave frustrated.
“I waited in line from 3:50 to 5:30 and did not move,” he said. “Finally I went inside and asked a police officer what was going on. At that point – 5:30 – he told me the vouchers had just then arrived but it was going to be a while before I got one so opted out.”
Others voiced frustration with the long lines, and the fact that the couldn’t get any information at the same time.
“All I want to know is if there is a way to know when your area will be coming back on line, since they say they’re doing this in phases,” one person said.
Currently, Atmos is providing a $250 per day stipend in five-day increments. Atmos representative Jennifer Altieri said that since houses would come back online in phases, the company was issuing checks or debit cards in five-day increments. Atmos also clarified later last night that customers do not have to wait in line today or Saturday to get the full amount of their stipend.
“Those seeking monetary assistance do not need to be at the Bachman and Walnut Hill recreation centers today or tomorrow to receive the full value of the assistance Atmos Energy is providing – they will get the full amount, regardless of when they pick up their check,” the company said. “At any point during this process, residents can go to the two Information Centers (during hours of operation) for monetary and other assistance.”
A few miles away, in a strip mall parking lot on Webb Chapel Road, Mayor Mike Rawlings, City Manager T.C. Broadnax, Mayor pro tem Adam Medrano, city council member Omar Narvaez, fire and police officials and Atmos representatives stood before the press — and a few irritated homeowners who came to hear the update firsthand.
“Citizens should be calling their city council members, that’s our job, and we’re pleased to help,” Rawlings told the crowd as he made introductions and started the press conference. He also acknowledged that also a few miles away, the Rogers family was mourning the loss of Linda “Michellita” Rogers, the sixth-grader who died in Friday’s home explosion.
Rawlings said the city has 400 employees working in various capacities during the situation, and Atmos has 120 work crews from Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Texas. Volunteers are also working at call centers and aid centers to help, and VisitDallas is assisting Atmos in locating hotels to provide shelter for customers that need to relocate.
He also said that as of now, the city and the energy company are “joined at the hip” in the effort to repair the situation and keep citizens safe.
“They have assured us they will pay to do whatever it takes to do right by their customers,” he said.
Rawlings said Atmos’ line replacement effort will take two to three weeks, but “it may stretch into the end of April” to get everything back to normal, because streets, alleys, and sidewalks will need to be repaired.
Atmos senior vice president of utility operations David Park was on hand to explain how the shutdown operation would work, saying that Thursday’s work involved isolating area from the system and conducting final safety checks. Early Friday morning, he said, crews would begin to replace the system with poly-pipe. Mains, pipes, and meters will be replaced.
Once the pipe is replaced, technicians will go door-to-door to restore service. Any repairs to the home line and home piping that might be needed will also be repaired at that time, at the company’s expense.
In addition to the work in the immediate shutdown zone, Atmos is also testing the surrounding areas for gas leaks.
Park said that the situation is “unprecedented to Atmos Energy.” He said they brought in an outside geologist to explain the soil conditions, and confirm they’re confined to the shutdown zone, but that “out of an abundance of caution,” they would continue to survey the area surrounding the zone to make sure there are no other leaks.
“We’re gonna take those precautions,” Parks said. “We know its disruptive to customers, but we’re going to do this for safety.”
Parks confirmed that the pipe beneath the zone was old — it hasn’t been replaced since the homes were built, and the majority of those homes were built in the late 1940s and early 1950s and include some of the first homes the late Ebby Halliday staged and sold on her start to becoming one of Dallas’ real estate legends.
This afternoon, we will begin looking at the conditions that created a situation ripe for tragedy, and whether public confidence is waning in the energy giant. The full video of the press conference is below, and we are also hosting an ongoing AMA on Facebook here.