About 70 neighbors and business owners attended a special Greenwood Community Council meeting at St. John’s Egan Hall Tuesday night to learn more about the investigation into last Wednesday’s devastating natural gas explosion, and find out how the neighborhood can move forward.
Kelly Kasper, GCC Health and Safety Committee Chair, opened the meeting by saying how heartening it was to see the community rallying in response to the disaster.
“On that day it was amazing to see all these people come together, my neighbors helping other neighbors.” Having worked at the Red Cross, she said knowing your neighbors is one of the most important things you can do. “Because you never know when the next ‘fill in the blank’ is going to happen.”
Puget Sound Energy spokesman Andy Wappler said his first thought upon seeing Kasper at the scene that morning was, “Oh, it’s the Red Cross coming,” then realized, “No, actually it’s the neighborhood coming.”
Wappler spent some time explaining what to do if you think you smell natural gas.
“Leave the area and then call. Don’t stay in the building, don’t touch the light switch. Don’t touch the phone inside. Don’t try to turn off the gas yourself,” he said. “Leave, then call. You can call 911, or call us directly.”
Puget Sound Energy’s direct line for that is 1-888-225-5773. But it’s usually easier to call 911. Fire department protocol is to then call PSE.
He said embarrassment prevents many people from calling, especially in the middle of the night. Wappler said PSE has technicians working 24/7 who are happy to come check it out.
Natural gas is naturally odorless, which is why PSE adds that rotten egg smell to it. However, one woman in the audience said she can’t smell that. So Wappler explained other ways to tell, such as a loud hissing sounds, bubbles in ground water, or vegetation next to a gas meter that is inexplicably dying.
Wappler said crews finished gathering evidence from the site yesterday, finding the gas meter, piping and anything else they believe is relevant to the investigation. PSE is one part of the investigation, which is being led by the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission’s Office of Pipeline Safety. Now investigators will inspect each piece for breaks, corrosion or anything else that could affect the integrity of the system. He said our neighborhood’s piping system is not old, “So we’re confident the system here is safe.”
A man in the audience asked Wappler why the gas to the explosion site and surrounding areas wasn’t shut off sooner, saying he could see it flaring an hour after the blast. Wappler explained that although that flaring looks dramatic, it’s not particularly dangerous. PSE didn’t want to shut off gas to a wider swath of the neighborhood, because once service was restored, they would need a technician to relight pilot lights for every single home and business affected. But some homeowners would try to do it themselves, which he said is more dangerous.
Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas, who lives just a few blocks from the site, said “I was never so proud of my neighborhood as this weekend. I saw all the people coming together. I saw how the Phinney Neighborhood Association really stood up for the neighborhood.”
Chardell Paine of the PNA said that as of yesterday, combined fundraising totals were more than $146,000. “It’s all coming together, everyone working together,” she said. She said the PNA had convened a Greenwood Relief Fund Advisory Board, which will include business owners, community members, PNA staff and others to set guidelines to fairly and quickly get money to the people and businesses affected by the blast. That will be done in three phases: Immediate needs of residents displaced and business employees; rebuilding businesses; and the long term needs of the community.
Of 53 affected businesses that the PNA has identified, seven remain closed: the three destroyed in the blast – Neptune Coffee, Mr. Gyros and Greenwood Quick Stop; plus others that were seriously damaged, including G&O Family Cyclery; The Angry Beaver tavern; Gorditos; and Insurrection. The Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co./Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas has relocated temporarily to the PNA. Paine said the 13 residents who lived above Gorditos have been completely displaced.
AJ Cari, from the city’s Department of Economic Development, is one of many city employees supporting business owners and anyone else affected by the explosion. The city has set up the Greenwood Recovery Office at Works Progress co-working (which is donating the space), at 115 N. 85th St., Suite 202 (upstairs). It is open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. starting today through next Friday, March 25 (closed Sunday). Parking is available behind the building with access for those with disabilities. Phone number is 206-396-2788.
The meeting ended with audience members thanking various people, organizations and businesses that stepped up to help out in some way during the last week. One woman in the audience summed it up by saying, “The sense of the village here in Greenwood is so inspiring.”