Residents near exploded house say they weren't evacuatedby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Edina residents who live near a house that exploded on Tuesday are demanding answers as to why they were not evacuated earlier. The explosion occurred when a gas line rupture allowed gas to seep into the house that was demolished.
Some nearby residents say they weren't evacuated until after the blast, even though the gas leak had been detected. Although no one was injured, many residents are angry.
Gordon Wright lives three doors down from the house at 5000 Arden Ave. He said he was thrown from a chair in his home office when the house exploded. Wright said the City of Edina is falsely claiming it evacuated residents before the explosion.
"They are putting it right in their press release that says that the homes in the immediate area were evacuated. I'm in the immediate area, three doors away. I was not evacuated, nor was I even talked to. I had to go out into the street and ask," said Wright.
The city issued a press release saying emergency crews evacuated homes in the immediate area before the house exploded. Streets were also blocked off.
After the house exploded, officials say crews expanded the evacuation area to include about 60 homes in a radius around W. 50th St.
But Wright said he was not told to leave, even after he informed a firefighter and a CenterPoint Energy official that he could smell gas inside his home.
"To say you told us to leave or evacuate us, it's a lie," said Wright. "That is what you should have done, and maybe it's wishful thinking on your part, but you didn't do it."
The explosion occurred after a contractor doing underground work for Qwest struck a CenterPoint Energy gas line.
CenterPoint said the company provided the location of the gas lines to the subcontractor. The company said its crews deferred to city emergency officials about which residents to evacuate and when.
Edina Fire Chief Marty Scheerer was not on the scene when the house exploded, but he said firefighters went house to house, telling residents about the gas leak before the explosion. He said they also told residents to evacuate if they smelled gas inside their homes.
"In the future, we will probably actually ask people to leave their homes versus tellling them to leave their homes if they smell gas," said Scheerer.
Scheerer said he is satisfied his crews responded appropriately, based on the infomation they had at the time. He said he plans to meet with residents next week to discuss their concerns.
CenterPoint officials say they want customers to know that any time they smell gas in their homes, they should immediately evacuate to a safe distance and then contact the authorities.
Edina City Manager Gordon Hughes said he understands that residents are shaken up by the house explosion, and that he is investigating the sequence of events to determine whether the situation was handled properly.
"I think on measure, the city's response was terrific," said Hughes. "That is the comment I've gotten back from many many people. Certainly we have an instance here where some homeowners felt that they should have been evacuated when they weren't, and the city is not being accurate in its representation of that. And we are going to correct that, and we are going to learn from it."
Hughes added that it's too soon to know whether any mistakes were made.
Resident Laura Benson isn't convinced. She was home with her young daughter when the house exploded. Her voice shook when she recalled what happened.
"It makes us feel much less secure," said Benson. "It makes me question whether I can really trust the judgment of firefighters or safety people. It makes me think next time there is a gas leak, I'm not listening to them if they say that it's safe."
Benson said she wants to make it clear that the first responders on the scene did a great job preventing the fire from spreading, and the situation from getting worse.
She just wants the city to tell the truth.
"I hope that they are not deliberately trying to cover up the fact that they did not evacuate us," said Benson. "I would never go as far as to say oh, yes, we for sure should have been evacuated. Somebody else needs to make that judgment call in this case. In hindsight, it seems very clear to me that we should have been. They are the professionals, not us. And when they tell us we are safe, we believe them."
City officials say they are still investigating the explosion and the response to it. They say they hope to have more answers for residents soon.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a clarification from CenterPoint Energy regarding its safety policies for customers in the event of a gas leak.