San Bruno blast victims erase scar of explosion with shoveling ceremony 

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane shovels dirt into the crater left by the 2010 pipe explosion. (Paul Sakuma/AP) - SAN BRUNO MAYOR JIM RUANE SHOVELS DIRT INTO THE CRATER LEFT BY THE 2010 PIPE EXPLOSION. (PAUL SAKUMA/AP)
  • San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane shovels dirt into the crater left by the 2010 pipe explosion. (Paul Sakuma/AP)
  • San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane shovels dirt into the crater left by the 2010 pipe explosion. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

As 78-year-old Doris Dull was walking down to the wide cavity in the ground left by the gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno last year, her longtime neighbor Carol Piunti called out to her.

“Go shovel!” Piunti said. “It’s really good. It’s closure.”

The women, who have lived on the same street for more than 20 years, were among dozens of Crestmoor neighborhood residents who stepped up to the edge of the crater at the corner of Glenview Drive and Earl Avenue under clear skies on Tuesday morning. Over and over, shovelfuls of San Bruno soil were lifted and tossed into the scar left when a geyser of natural gas busted out a PG&E pipeline, igniting an inferno.

The crater has been a visible record of the events of Sept. 9, 2010, the deadly day on which eight people were killed and 38 homes were wiped off their bucolic Peninsula hillside. It has also been a considerable inconvenience:

Because it was at the heart of several investigations, the crater was fenced off, and so was Glenview — formerly a thoroughfare through the neighborhood.

Since the explosion, several houses have sprouted up on once-scorched lots, but the road and the crater have remained closed. This should change in the near future with crews finally filling the crater and the road reopening.
City and state officials invited neighbors and members of the media to take part in a ceremony commemorating this process; the event was solemn but joyful.

For Piunti, it was a moment of resolution. She and her mother were the first residents to shovel soil into the pit.
“It felt good,” she said. “It’s like, I survived this blast.”

For Dull, it was simply emotional. The tears began to flow as she waited in line behind other survivors until it was her turn to toss a shovelful of dirt into the crater.

“I didn’t go to the anniversary memorial, that was too hard,” she said a moment later, taking off her glasses to wipe her eyes. “Just doing this is good but it’s emotional. It’s still very fresh.”

Her house was up the hill from the explosion, and ultimately was spared major damage. But she still vividly remembers the moment the explosion caused her house to “bounce like a top,” scaring the daylights out of her and her dog, who were sitting on their couch watching a TV program. She looked outside and saw a fireball in the heavens that would turn her neighborhood into a warzone, complete with police, fire officials, planes and helicopters.

“It was the worst experience of my whole life, and I’ve been through all the earthquakes — even the one in 1957 where my parents’ house was almost destroyed,” she said. “It was even worse than that.”

She’s still struggling to understand what happened that day.

“I have what I’m calling my ‘scrapbook of hell’ that I’m keeping. Every important article or picture, anything that comes up in the paper, I have cut out and saved,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s out of anger at PG&E or if it’s just for me to feel like I know better what’s going on. Maybe it’s been my therapy.”

One year later

Scores of lawsuits have been filed over the pipe disaster.

38 Homes demolished by pipeline explosion and subsequent inferno
8 People killed by blast
28 Feet of pipeline ejected from the earth during blast
100 Feet away from rupture site, the 28 feet of pipe landed
7 Destroyed homes that have received permits to rebuild
92 Lawsuits against PG&E by survivors
320 Individuals involved in the lawsuits

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Katie Worth

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