Residents near blast afraid to return to their homes
SISSONVILLE, W.Va. -- Margaret Johnson placed a "For Sale" sign in front of her home Thursday.
Although NiSource officials say her house on Sissonville Drive is safe, Johnson said the thought of sleeping there after Tuesday's massive gas line explosion and fire is overwhelming.
"My sense of security in my home has been taken away," said Johnson, 60, whose home is about 1,000 yards from where the blast occurred.
Several people received minor injures, but the blast and resulting fires destroyed about five homes, burned others and engulfed a large section of Interstate 77, melting asphalt and guardrails.
Johnson and about 20 of her neighbors have been staying at the Sleep Inn on Pennsylvania Avenue, next to Harding's restaurant, since the explosion.
She spent Thursday afternoon talking to officials from the gas company and trying to convince them to sign a piece of paper confirming her house was safe.
"No one would sign it," Johnson said. "They all told me they weren't the right person to do that."
Bruce Reynolds, a senior land agent with NiSource, was at Johnson's house Thursday,
"I hope it will never be repeated. It was an accident," Reynolds told Johnson. He gave Johnson his cell phone number and told her to "call me anytime."
Johnson was home Tuesday afternoon when the blast occurred. She, like many others in the neighborhood, thought a plane was crashing in her front yard.
"I heard glass breaking and then this god-awful roar -- I can still hear it in my ears," she said. "I don't think I'll ever forget that sound."
When Johnson looked out her front door on Tuesday she saw "a humungous wall of fire."
"I could feel the heat and there was steam coming from under my home. It shook the pictures off of my wall," she said. "Sparks were coming out of the wall where my Christmas tree is plugged in.
"I may never feel safe in that home again."
The National Transportation Safety Board, who is investigating the gas explosion, coordinates with the Red Cross to provide crisis counseling as part of its disaster assistance, according to Stephanie Matonek, a support specialist with NTSB.
"If counseling is something she'd like to do it's available for her through the local chapter [of the Red Cross]," Matonek said. "It's short-term, but it's pretty immediate."
Dale Petry, director of Kanawha County Emergency Services, said he sympathizes with Johnson and other residents who live near the blast.
"I can understand how she feels, this was horrific," Petry said. "I don't know many people who could just go the next day and lay their head down and go to bed."
Mark Boggs, Johnson's son, said he didn't think his mother would participate in counseling.
"She's been through a lot of traumatic experiences," he said. "But I don't think anyone around here will have peace of mind for quite some time."
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.