Hundreds Pack into Community Meeting Over Atmos Concerns

Total number of evacuations in northwest Dallas neighborhood reaches 300, Atmos says

Hundreds of people packed into the Foster Elementary School auditorium in Northwest Dallas Tuesday night to hear from the City of Dallas and Atmos about ongoing natural gas issues in their neighborhoods.

Representatives from two area city council districts, the City of Dallas, Dallas Fire Rescue, Dallas Police and Atmos Energy took questions from the audience. Most were eager to hear from Jennifer Altieri, the Director of Public Affairs from Atmos Energy.

"How can we trust ya'll? My friend barely made it out alive. That's my question to ya'll," asked one man in the audience. "How are you going to change this and fix this?"

"The explosion, why did it take that third house? I know the second house victims. Why didn't you do anything? I don't trust you at this moment," said Betty Acosta who lives near three homes that reported natural gas fires or explosions last week.

Altieri told the audience that she couldn't answer questions about the explosions, citing an ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

Altieri told NBC 5, "At this point, I can tell you the NTSB is involved and they have a public affairs director that you can actually talk to."

Others in the audience ask Atmos to better communicate with the neighborhood about what the crews are working on and where they are headed next. Some told the panel they've felt alarmed upon seeing Atmos crews near their homes and struggled to get answers about why they were there.

Tuesday, Atmos Energy added precautionary evacuations in a Northwest Dallas neighborhood.

The new area is several blocks north and on the other side of Marsh Lane from the scene of a house explosion last week that killed a 12-year-old girl.

In the days before that deadly blast neighbors who experienced other gas related incidents said they contacted Atmos about suspected gas leaks.

Neighbors in the new evacuation area said authorites contacted them about possible leaks.

"They obviously decided to check and widen the inspection of the surrounding neighborhoods," said resident Karen Johnson.

The latest evacuations include 60 homes on the 3700 block Matador Drive, the 3700 block of Park Lane, the 3700 block of Rockdale Drive and the Chapel Creek Apartments.

Resident Kenneth Knight said neighbors received notification Monday evening.

"The fire department and a whole gang of them came through knocking on doors, telling them they had to leave. And it was mandatory so we just went and got the dogs and went and stayed with friends," Knight said.

The company is providing lodging for people evacuated due to the gas leaks. For more information evacuees can call Atmos at 972-964-4191.

All of the evacuated areas are older neighborhoods where cracked sidewalks and driveways show how years of shifting soil could also impact underground gas lines.

Karen Johnson said the homes on Espanola Drive where the explosion occured were built in the 1940's.  Homes on her street in the new evacuation area were built in the 1950's.

"This area was originally a dairy farm, that’s the reason it’s called Marsh Lane, because it was very marshy and mucky," Johnson said.

Now excavation is underway along Marsh Lane for gas line replacement.

"It’s a shame that someone had to die and a few houses explode and catch fire before they did anything," Knight said.

As contractors worked on gas lines in alley behind Knight's home Tuesday he said they also explored the sewer line with a camera, looking for possible damage. Leaking natural gas could enter a damaged sewer line as a path to becoming trapped inside a dwelling.

"He said once they put the gas line in, they’re going to come back and run a camera back down it again, just to make sure," Knight said.

Atmos has declined any comment on what went wrong with the gas lines.

But Tuesday, the company said it is making progress restoring service to homes evacuated earlier. Atmos said it has completed two thirds of a two-and-a-half mile gas line replacement in the area.

An estimated 300 homes were under evacuation early Tuesday.

Dallas City Council members Adam Medrano and Omar Narvaez planned to host a community meeting Tuesday for people affected by the evacuations. The meeting is set for 6 p.m. at Foster Elementary School, at 3700 Clover Lane at Marsh Lane.

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