I’ll be honest. At first, when I first had the idea of writing about how the neighborhoods impacted by the deadly home explosion two weeks ago — and the aftermath — I was thinking of a straight news story.
But I realized fairly quickly that I couldn’t. You see, I know these neighborhoods. My child goes to school with the children from these neighborhoods, and for almost 10 years, I lived quite close to one of the neighborhoods and in the other one, on a street just a block from Marsh Lane.
These are my friends, my son’s friends, and my neighbors. And how they’re dealing with the turmoil and sadness is a story worth telling — but one wholly unsurprising to anyone who lives in either of the neighborhoods that hug Marsh Lane.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve seen neighbors grieve together — even though they might not have known Michellita Rogers or her family. I’ve seen neighbors be scared together, and I’ve also seen them express unplumbed depths of gratitude toward the work crews toiling day and night to replace old steel pipe with new pipe.
“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 12 years,” said Midway Hollow resident Suzanne Staring. “This is our neighborhood, this is who we are.”
Staring told me this Saturday afternoon as we stood in the driveway of Scott and Christine Colling’s house on Lomita Drive. The Collings had arranged a large cookout for neighbors, city workers, and Atmos workers, hoping to provide food and encouragement for people currently without gas service, and to the crews working hard to restore it.
“I’m meeting people I didn’t know before today,” Christine said, adding that she estimated that at least 200 or so had come and gone so far that afternoon. Neighbors donated food and supplies, she said, and another neighbor had hopped on his bike and visited with crews to make sure they knew about the gathering.
When I arrived neighbors, work crews, law enforcement, and even city council member Omar Narvaez were milling around, talking. Some had questions, but even more were greeting workers like they were rock stars.
Colling said that since half the neighborhood still had gas service (including her family), they had been making sure neighbors have access to hot water for showers and that they’re warm enough.
Just the day before, I spent time with Jatsive Hernandez, who set up a snack station complete with phone chargers for Atmos workers and neighbors. As work crews steadily arrived to grab a quick snack, neighbors also streamed in with more provisions.
By Monday, several more stations were up throughout both neighborhoods, and one family made the late-night rounds to make sure crews on both sides of the neighborhood had fuel for the near nonstop work.
In addition to heaping praise on the Atmos work crews, many were praising city council members Adam Medrano and Omar Narvaez. Kylette Harrison said their presence at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center last Thursday night — when the massive gas service stoppage began — made her feel like the neighborhoods had advocates.
“In talking to Atmos on the phone, they made it seem like if we didn’t come to get the voucher on Thursday night, there wouldn’t be another chance,” she said. “So my husband and I waited in line for six hours at the Walnut Hill Community center and it brought a smile to our faces to see Adam and Omar.”
“They came late at night too! They didn’t just fit it in an 8 to 5 window, they were with us in the trenches at 9:30 p.m.”
“I am impressed that they have held public forums so we can get information,” she added. “They’re also updating their Facebook pages with all that we need to know which has bet immensely helpful, and of course just coming alongside us at the rec center was so kind.”
Harrison said that she has been impressed with how both neighborhoods have worked together during a time of confusion and sadness.
“I am so sad for that family,” she said. “There’s been a donation of necessary items for the girls family started on the app, Next Door. It’s cool to see the neighborhood rallying together to help.”
Neighbors have also been a physical source of support for the Rogers family as well.
“We went as neighbors to the burial today,” Fabiola Sarabia told me last Friday.
Time and again, as I talked with those impacted by what Atmos has called an “unprecedented” situation, they kept talking about how strangers are becoming a rarity in the area, too.
“I have just been staying in touch with immediate neighbors around me,” Joan Jones told me. “We are watching out for each other as most of them work. I am retired so can keep an eye from my office a bit more and have dogs looking thru glass doors to keep me alert. Love the increased police car presence also.”
Megan Mercer said that she’s seen the neighborhood come together as well. “Many neighbors have offered their houses as places to shower, if they have hot water,” she said. “A neighbor brought over space heaters”
“A neighbor with all electric appliances has given us an open-door invitation for hot showers or just hanging out. We’ve been invited to friends’ houses for dinner,” Laura Moss said. “A neighbor offered extra space heaters and to feed our chickens if we need to relocate for a few days.”
“I’ve honestly been stopped by next door and across the street neighbors who I’ve never met in my two years here, talking about how we’ll cook, shower, stay warm, etc.,” Harrison said.
In addition, nonprofit groups like Buckner International and United to Learn have been supplying families with clothes, supplies, snacks, gift cards to help augment the per diem families are getting from Atmos, and even stations for washing clothes.
Even nearby businesses got in on the neighborly actions, including Del Norte Bakery, who helped supply some of the snack stations in the neighborhoods.
Tara Eden, a manager at nearby Bluffview Growler, told me that the staff has gotten to know several of the people that were evacuated to the nearby Embassy Suites on Northwest Highway.
“Since we are next door to the Embassy, we have a had a lot of customers come in and bond over the experience,” Eden said, adding that they decided to create an event — a happy hour with a discount — to give more neighbors a chance to bond and commiserate.
“We wanted to create a happy hour where people from the surrounding neighborhood could come together and meet their neighbors through the crisis,” she said.
Local business owner David Finto of Eagle Cleaners, said his neighbors and Atmos made sure his business was able to stay open. He said it took one call to the energy company to get a representative to visit the small shopping complex that houses a Dominos, his shop and several others. That representative reassured them that a compressed natural gas truck would arrive soon to put them back in business.
“He was very courteous and professional in his manner,” Finto said. “I’m thankful and concerned for all my neighbors!”
The Bachman Lake community and Midway Hollow residents may be angry, sad, frustrated, and worried, but they’re also forging new friendships and strengthening old ones.
And that’s what makes this story not just a disaster story, but one of camaraderie, too.