On San Bruno anniversary, family rebuilds

September 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Friday, Sept. 9 will be a painful day for survivors of the San Bruno pipeline explosion. A lot has changed in the year since, but for many, the approaching anniversary has stirred the emotions of a year ago.

The Magoolaghan clan is coming for a visit to their new house. There's 6-year-old Charlotte, 4-year-old Gabriella, 2-year-old Liam and Cole, at only 10 months old, he never knew the house that was severely damaged last year.

Parents Bill and Betti hope the new house will help the other kids forget.

Today, the scariest thing is an unfinished bathroom. On Sept. 9 last year it was a different story. Betti was eight months pregnant with Cole. She had been home for 15 minutes with the three kids, just sitting down to dinner, when Line 132 blasted out of the ground a few hundred yards away and a giant gas fueled blowtorch turned the sky orange.

"A big wave of heat went through the house, she saw the fireball through skylights in the kitchen, thought something happened on the other side of the house; she didn't realize it was the front side because the fireball was so high in the sky," Bill Magoolaghan said.

Betti didn't hesitate; they all ran barefoot down the street.

Bill was 17 miles away at his San Francisco office.

"Originally I was sitting at my desk and I got a call from my wife on my cellphone, I said 'Hello?' and all I heard was screaming and then it hung up. And I went, 'OK, this is scary.' Then she called back and literally it sounded like she was 20 feet away from her phone being beaten so I called 911 and said, 'I have no idea what happened to my wife but you have to find her. She's being mugged or something.' Finally the fourth time she said, 'A plane crashed in our backyard,'" Bill said.

It wasn't a plane, but a substandard section of steel pipe sitting underground untested or inspected since 1956.

Everybody was OK, but the family has spent the year in therapy dealing with the emotional trauma.

They've been living in a rental. But with insurance, and a much bigger chunk of his own money, Bill gutted the yellow-tagged house and is rebuilding a new and improved version.

But the view from their bedroom window is a constant reminder and the empty lots like the graveyard of their lost neighborhood and neighbors.

As the anniversary approaches, the waves of dread return.

"We are still living, in a sense, the nightmare," Betti Magoolaghan said.

"I am surprised, actually. I thought it would be a good moment to say, 'Hey, we made it a year. We put a year behind us. We're heading toward good things.' And then we got here and the girls were a bit nervous and been having some nightmares again and my wife has been having nightmares again," Bill said.

Like many of their neighbors, the Magoolaghans are suing PG&E, saying they feel it's the best way to ensure being treated fairly.

And, they want the truth about what happened.

"I think everybody has to realize and decide that their lives are very important and we cannot just let PG&E and other companies to make a profit out of people's lives, that's just not right," Betti said.

The family expects to move in in January.


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