Amberia Kaempf is still feeling the shock of the explosion that obliterated a former neighbor’s house in North Franklin Township two weeks ago.
“It’s so frustrating,” she said on Tuesday, four days after the Park Avenue house she shared with her young daughter was condemned. “Your entire life has been turned upside down because of it.”
Kaempf was one of a half-dozen people who spoke at the township volunteer fire company during a community meeting called in the wake of the July 31 blast that destroyed the house of Deborah Braden at 100 Park Lane, just off the 200 block of Park Avenue. Columbia Gas quickly admitted it was at fault.
The two township supervisors present – Bob Sabot and Silvio Passalacqua – voted to lift a stop-work order that officials had issued the day after the incident directing the utility to cease all nonemergency work in the township.
Columbia Gas executives addressed roughly 70 meeting attendees. They said the company had been doing pressure upgrade work on its system, but failed to install a necessary pressure regulator at Braden’s house prior to activating the higher-pressure system, allowing gas to enter and causing the explosion.
The utility suspended the pressure upgrade work that was blamed for the explosion throughout the state, Huwar said.
“We will not resume that work until we enhance our customer identification and fuel survey process to ensure that all homes that need pressure regulators will be correctly identified,” said Mike Huwar, president of Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, adding those changes must be vetted by the PUC.
Bob Kitchell, vice president of construction services for Columbia, said the company would not use the pressure upgrade method for the remainder of its modernization work in the township. It will instead replace existing lines with new plastic mains and then temporarily shut off gas at each house and connect them one at a time.
Huwar said after the meeting that he expected the project to get back underway “immediately” and last for the rest of 2019.
Braden, a neighbor and three firefighters were treated at hospitals for nonlife-threatening injuries or medical conditions and later released. The firefighters were investigating a smell of gas that Braden had reported.
Sabot estimated about three dozen houses were damaged, but didn’t have an exact figure. Huwar didn’t either, saying his company was still working with insurance companies.
Kaempf said she had been renting the house she shared with her seven-year-old daughter, but now there are cracks in the foundation and walls. The ceiling is also lifted, and the family lost most of its belongings.
Her commute to work had been just two minutes.
She found a new place on Park Avenue, but it isn’t quite move-in ready, so for now, she has to make a more than 36-mile round trip from where she’s staying with her parents in Avella.
Earlier on Tuesday, PUC spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said the commission’s pipeline safety division is conducting its own inquiry into what happened and whether there were any violations.
“These are complicated incidents in nature,” said Hagen-Frederiksen. “We understand what Columbia has said since then, but its important for our investigators to complete their work.”