In the weeks before the deadly Dallas house explosion that claimed the life of 12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers, her family called the gas company twice about the smell of gas. The first time, Atmos Energy repaired a meter on the exterior of the home. The second time, the family was told there was nothing to worry about, a family member told NBCDFW.com.
Neighbors, too, smelled the gas and saw it bubbling up through puddles. Two of them told the Dallas Morning News they smelled it outside their homes for months prior to the explosion. Another complained to Atmos about a soaring bill.
Gas Leaks Reported Before the Explosion
Since 2010, a WFAA report found, at least nine other leaks were reported within a one-block radius of the house in the 3500 block of Espanola Drive where Linda Rogers lived with her family until Friday. Two of them occurred within the 48-hour-period that preceded the fatal February 23 explosion. The incidents weren’t minor. On Wednesday, February 21 a gas heater exploded injuring one person. On Thursday, February 22 a person was injured when gas flared up from a stove. Both of those people went to the hospital for treatment.
Then, around 6:30 a.m. on February 23 fire crews received a call about a house explosion. When they arrived they found four people standing in front of the house which was not on fire but had been severely damaged. They were injured, one of them was holding Linda in their arms. All of them were transported to an area hospital. Linda did not survive her injuries. A GoFundMe page has been created for the family.
More Leaks Reported After Explosion
Even after the explosion, when Atmos evacuated 300 homes, shut off the gas for a sizable part of the neighborhood and began work on the replacement of two and a half miles of pipeline, the leaks persisted. On Sunday, two days after the fatal explosion, a gas leak was reported just blocks away at Chapel Creek Apartments on Hidalgo Drive. The 90-unit complex had to be evacuated. And, earlier tonight, Fire Station 43 on Lombardy Lane had to be evacuated after Atmos crews found a leak in front of the station.
Previously, Atmos had estimated that the pipeline replacement would take about ten days. It is unclear if the newly discovered leaks will extend the process.
NTSB, State and Local Authorities Investigate
Meanwhile, federal, state and local authorities are working together on an investigation. The day after the explosion, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), announced it would be sending three investigators to the scene. The NTSB has jurisdiction over pipelines because they are considered a mode of transportation for oil and gas. The agency will try to determine the cause of the explosion and release its findings in six to 12 months. Two inspectors from the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state agency which oversees pipeline operators, will be collaborating with the NTSB and local officials on the investigation.
“These investigations are very thorough,” said Fred Pritzker, an explosion attorney who represents clients who have been injured and families who have suffered the wrongful death of a loved one in an explosion. “They’ll take be taking a close look at the equipment and safety measures. What we often see is that these tragedies were preventable.”