One Month After Derailment, Neighbors Fear Physical, Financial Ruin
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) _ Companies are handing out $5,000 checks, paying hotel bills and promising more help for people whose low-income neighborhood was ravaged by a runaway train and exploding pipeline.
But many furious survivors are afraid to return home, and worry they won’t recover their losses, particularly less-tangible losses like a drop in property values.
″I don’t like the neighborhood any more. There’s not much of it left,″ said plumber Mark Kingston, 30.
Kingston lived 1 1/2 blocks from the row of Duffy Street homes demolished one month ago Monday when an overloaded freight train speeding down from Cajon Pass at 90 mph derailed on a curve.
After the wreck, Calnev Pipe Line Co. inspected its 14-inch pipeline buried next to the Southern Pacific tracks, and assured residents they could safely return home. The 250-mile pipeline provides 90 percent of Las Vegas’ gasoline and supplies three Air Force bases with gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
But on May 25, the pipeline ruptured, spewing gasoline that exploded in a fireball and engulfed homes spared by the train wreck.
The toll of the twin disasters: six people dead, 42 injured, 800 to 1,000 evacuated, and at least 22 homes destroyed, significantly damaged or considered unsafe to reoccupy.
Trains are running again. After failed legal efforts by the city and residents, gasoline resumed flowing Friday through the repaired and reinforced 600-foot section of pipe.
Southern Pacific Transportation Co., Calnev and government officials again are telling residents of the roughly 200 homes in the subdivision that it’s safe to go home.
″This is probably the most looked at and examined pipeline in the United States,″ Calnev spokesman Richard Kline said.
″I would not hesitate moving back into this neighborhood,″ said Anthony Andrukaitis, vice president of Chicago-based GATX Terminals Corp., Calnev’s parent company.
″They told us that after the derailment,″ said Duffy Street resident Paul Evans Jr., 21. ″Everybody believed it and moved back in. And what happens? It blows up after they say they checked it. They messed up and I’m never going by their word again.″
Police Sgt. George Finkle estimated that by Sunday, only 40 percent of the evacuated residents had returned.
″We deeply regret that this occurred,″ Andrukaitis said. ″The only thing Calnev can do is everything in its power to work with the citizens and elected officials to get them back to where they were.″
Calnev and Southern Pacific agreed to pay the city’s costs, and buy the 22 homes, most of which have been razed. They are footing hotel and restaurant bills until Monday for evacuees from undamaged homes.
The companies distributed dozens of $5,000 checks to heads of evacuated households. Recipients still can sue.
Andrukaitis and Southern Pacific claims manager Floyd Parker estimate the companies will spend tens of millions of dollars.
Southern Pacific accepted full blame for the derailment. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating Calnev’s post-derailment pipeline inspection, and whether the pipeline was dented or cracked by the train wreck.
Calnev acknowledged it visually inspected only portions of the pipe.
Duffy Street residents like Dwight Pledger believe another derailment is possible.
″We can’t go back - the fear, the apprehension and anxiety,″ said the 36- year-old real estate agent. ″I’ve got to make mortgage payments on a place I can’t even live in. Real estate values are just gone. They ought to clear the whole area.″
″We’re not going to buy the whole neighborhood,″ Parker replied. Southern Pacific lawyer Douglas Stephenson said the railroad and Calnev will establish a panel of retired judges to arbitrate claims by residents who say their property values plummeted.
Stephenson predicted most claims will be settled without lawsuits. Parker said residents soon will realize ″we really are intending to right as much of the problem as is possible.″
That’s not good enough for many.
″It was a nice neighborhood,″ said retiree Jack Samuels. ″It was quiet, and we could let our kids run loose.″
″Now,″ said Angela Kingston, 19, ″we’ve got to worry about them blowing up.″