After a Feb. 23 gas-leak explosion in Northwest Dallas killed 12-year-old Linda Rogers in her home, emergency crews and Atmos Energy evacuated the surrounding area, cut off gas service and began working around the clock to repair leaky, corroded pipes.
As Atmos crews work to restore service, some residents in the affected neighborhoods are dealing with the stress of being without gas, facing plumbing repairs and wondering who will pick up the bill for those and the torn-up streets and sidewalks left behind by the emergency work.
The good news is that Atmos says the repairs are moving right along, and the company is offering to foot the bill for repairs needed between new gas meters and customers' homes. The company will also pay for getting streets and sidewalks back in order, Dallas City Council member Omar Narvaez says, but the first priority is getting the gas safely turned back on.
Kelley Kime, who lives about a half-mile away from the deadly explosion, hasn’t been evacuated but says she is certain, even weeks later, the ordeal is not over.
The loud digging is a constant, even at 2:30 or 3:30 in the morning, which means the crews are working hard, she acknowledges, but anxiety and insomnia are her constant companions these days.
Her 70-something parents, who live nearby, including a father with heart problems and Parkinson’s disease, were moved out of their home. They asked workers before going to bed Feb. 28 if they were safe. The answer from workers was yes, but at 3:30 a.m., urgent banging on windows and doors alerted the couple that they would be moving — and in a hurry.
Kime rushed over to help, and it took all night to find appropriate hotel accommodations for her disabled dad.
As repairs persisted, more residents were asked to evacuate, about 2,800 of them on March 1. Unlike previous evacuations, these were voluntary, but gas would be shut off to the entire evacuation area — in some cases for up to three weeks.
Atmos is compensating residents in evacuated areas at $250 per day, per family, Kime says. (Atmos won’t verify specific numbers, but there is this handy map of safe gas-equipped homes along with those that are still gas-deprived).
Evacuated homeowners, mandatory and nonmandatory, receive the same amount of money until they are back inside homes with safely functioning gas, residents say.
Some homes will require plumbers to replace personal pipes, and Atmos will foot that bill as well.
“Given these unique circumstances, we are covering plumbing costs for residents living inside the planned outage area,” Atmos operations CEO David Park says. “As a reminder, this process takes time to arrange with customers to complete safety tests and make repairs before we can safely restore service.”
Kime is concerned about her family’s safety, and she wonders about security as potential looters learn of empty homes.
“They told me cops were strategically positioned, but to me it looks like a ghost town [on some streets],” she says.
She worries about the Atmos laborers, too.
“The same guy shows up on our street at sunup and works until dark — how are they monitoring worker exhaustion?” she says.
In areas that have been deemed safe again, at least as far as the gas pipes are concerned, homeowners have asked about ruins left in the wake of all the digging and mending. Weeks after Atmos started patching up potentially fatal pipelines, neighbors noticed deformed-looking corners and streets — unwalkable, possibly dangerous and potentially costly.
One resident pointed out the corner north of Walnut Hill near Marsh Lane, for instance. He’s concerned about the asphalt and dirt, piled high over repaired sections, as well as other debris. Will Dallas taxpayers ultimately pay for final street repairs? Dallas leaders have been arguing for years about budgeting for street repairs, and some of the streets and sidewalks in this area already were already in poor condition.
Narvaez, the District 6 councilman, assures that no city department or taxpayer will face financial obligation for repairs.
“The curb and street repairs will all come at the energy company’s expense,” Narvaez says. "We [as a council] have deals in place with our service providers so that if they have to dismantle or change something, they are responsible for putting things back together.
“Now, yes, some people are going to see that their alley repair or street repair isn’t coming together as fast as they would like, but the emphasis right now is on restoring all the gas lines first," he says.
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Atmos says about the same.
“Our goal is to return natural gas service to our customers as quickly and safely as possible,” spokeswoman Claire Skillestad says.
“Out of the 2,435 total customers in the planned outage area, 965 of our customers are safely using natural gas in their homes,” she says. As of Tuesday, Atmos was “working on more than 389 meters, and those customers will be scheduled for a safety test and possible restoration of service.”
And a press release Wednesday noted, “Atmos has accomplished pipe replacement in Northwest Dallas, and nearly 86 percent of the new infrastructure is safely installed.”