DALLAS - Atmos Energy has shut off natural gas to 2,800 homes and apartments in northwest Dallas on Thursday. Meanwhile, dozens more homes were evacuated overnight in the area where a gas explosion killed a 12-year-old girl last week.
New evacuations as of 2 a.m. Thursday include 30 homes on Snow White Drive (even) and Pinocchio Drive (odd) between Sleepy Lane and Royal Lane and 16 homes on Pinocchio Drive (even) and Cinderella Drive (odd) between Northhaven Road and Sleepy Lane.
Atmos has set up a hotline for people displaced by the gas leak and need hotel accommodations. They are being urged to call (888) 538-8816. More info can also be found on their website.
Atmos has shut off gas service to a larger area between Walnut Hill Lane, Webb Chapel Road, Northwest Highway and Lakemont Drive. The outage could last up to three weeks as crews work to replace all the mains and service lines. The company said it is bringing in more than 120 crews to complete the work as quickly as possible.
“We will replace all those lines, all those meters, make all the necessary repairs within our customers’ homes at our charge and we’ll do that as quickly as possible,” said John Paris, the president of Atmos Energy’s mid-Texas division. “Our crews will be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to complete this.”
Mayor Mike Rawlings, along with reps for Atmos, assured citizens affected by a planned widespread gas outage that they will be provided for.
“We're going to get through this together. We always do,” the mayor said. “If they want to stay in their house, Atmos is doing a per diem. If they want a hotel, we're going to get them a hotel and make sure they get one.”
Residents are getting $1250 from Atmos in the form of a debit card or cashier's check to do with it what they want. Even with money in hand, some people are torn over what to do next.
“It’s just the most helpless feeling I can ever imagine,” said Kylette Harrison.
“I'm frustrated because they are not giving us a lot of information,” said resident Jackie Dragojevic.
“What concerns me is about the school,” said resident Viviana Cervera. “I don't know if they are going to shut down, too. I mean because they go to Foster.”
Dallas ISD says Foster Elementary School received a tank of compressed gas as a precautionary measure and expects classes to go on as usual there as well as at Thomas Jefferson High School and Figueroa Elementary. The spokesperson says families that decide to stay at hotels will not get bus service.
Some neighbors called the work a necessary inconvenience.
"You see these three dogs? I gotta figure out what to do with them and myself. Thank God I have family that lives in Plano and around Dallas,” said Stephen Knight, who lives in the neighborhood. “I'm just gonna take it as it comes. But right now it doesn't look good because I can see all the trucks over there. I'm literally like four houses that way."
"I just now found out this news so now I'm trying to piece together what I will be doing. I mean, it definitely is an inconvenience,” said Eddie Gonzalez, who also lives nearby. “But like I said, I'm glad they're doing that. I mean, I'd rather err on the side of caution. So yeah, I don't know exactly what my game plan is gonna be."
Dallas police assure residents that they will be patrolling the area and keeping an eye out for looters.
The gas company said it could not have predicted what it calls an “unprecedented” system problem.
A geotechnical engineer found that the record February rainfall and the water’s weight on the dirt beneath the surface caused underground shifting and excessive pressure on the aging system and causing leaks.
Michael Williams is a former Texas railroad commissioner, the agency in charge of utilities and pipeline and gas line safety.
“When we have heavy rainfall over a long period of time, it is not unusual for that to adversely affect our underground systems,” he explained. “If there is a leak, the rain causes the gas to sort of settle in an area. Unfortunately, it makes for the opportunity for an explosion to occur a little bit more because that gas is just sitting there.”
It is possible that a dangerous gas pool is what caused the house explosion on Espanola Drive last Friday that killed 12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers.
Federal investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were called in as part of the investigation.
When Williams was railroad commissioner, he proposed Atmos and other Texas gas companies replace old steel and iron pipes with new heavy plastic materials.
“We wanted them to do it over time. Start with the areas that were the riskiest based upon the leak analysis and the leak studies that have been done,” Williams said. “And then replace them over time using that sort of process.”
“I’ll go back prior to the rains, our system was operating normally just as it does on every other day,” said Kevin Akers, Atmos Senior Vice President of Safety and Enterprises.
But even with the deadly explosion and two other gas-related fires in the same timeframe, it was six days before Atmos took the sweeping steps to shut down service across the entire Northwest Dallas neighborhood. The decision was guided by a report from a contract engineer.
“As leaks started to form, we started to add more crews to that area,” Akers said. “That’s when we brought in the expert to help us understand what was going on.”
The expert was a geotechnical engineer. Based on the initial report, the decision was made to shut down the entire quadrant and wholesale replace all of the gas lines, meters, and everything and anything connected to the delivery of natural gas.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said after seeing the results of extensive tests, he fully supports the utility company’s decision to take down the system and replace it.
“Your safety is our number one priority,” Jenkins said.
County and city leaders will also work with Dallas ISD to address parents and students concerns.
“This is definitely going to be a challenging few weeks as people are being displaced as well as kids and others trying to get to and from school. But we’re going to work in concert with the Dallas Independent School District as well as Dallas County and a variety of other agencies to make sure that the support is there for our residents” said Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax.
Residents living in the affected area will not be required to leave their homes. They can stay but will have to use electric appliances.
The Rogers family attorney says the family has not had a chance to hear the new explanation from Atmos or react to it since they’re still coping with their loss and getting ready to bury their daughter. But he did comment the situation seems to only be getting bigger and bigger.
Michellita’s funeral and burial services will be Friday.