4 dead, 37 homes destroyed, dozens lay in hospitals around the San Francisco bay area.

Being a native to the bay area the street exits and iconic architecture along 101 have been memorized from the several trips I have taken on the Peninsula. I drove from San Jose to San Bruno up the long serpentine 101 highway. I drove through cities and street exits while driving but I was troubled on the inside. The San Bruno Avenue exit was fast approaching and I still wasn’t sure what had compelled me to go to the sight. While driving there was an inner struggle from believing that somehow there was a way to aid the community to completely thinking that I was a pretty morbid person to want to visit the destruction site. These emotions have previously triggered me when I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC or at the WWII museum, and the lower ninth ward in New Orleans even though I had never experienced the pain and loss personally.

No matter what struggle was going on my insides; I was compelled and propelled through 101, to the San Bruno Avenue off ramp, and up to the canyon. After each stop light through El Camino Real there was evidence of a once illuminating emergency roadside flares. The emergency services teams had been working day and night to assist the victims in this San Bruno neighborhood and still were very present this day. Orange cones and dust from road side flares swept across the gravel at each intersection pointing me further up the road towards the canyon.

At the peak of the canyon the droves of passerby’s came to a screeching halt only to catch a glimpse of the giant hole in the earth from the natural gas explosion a few days prior. There was a space between the groves of Eucalyptus at the highest canyon peak that opened up like a red velvet curtain before the morbid finale of an operetta. I joined a group of people that flocked to the view and as we stepped up the banquette our shuffling feet and rustling coats came to an end. Silence. Awe. Wonder. Gasps. Tears.

The panoramic view was split. Life and Death in one blink. Green and Grey on the same canvas of an accidental nightmare. To the right we could see many homes still intact. The laws were green. Many of the homes freshly painted. All the cars were parked neatly and the neighborhood looked like any other in the bay area. But if we continue to inspect the landscape we see a completely different neighborhood a bit down the same road. A dark charcoal grey clearing. A gigantic dead space surrounded by tall emaciated toothpicks (burned trees). The toothpicks are hugged by taller like popsicles sticks that have only been half consumed (trees with half of one side of the branches burned), and at the groves largest expansion were trees full and abundant but covered with the same Smokey ash from the fires. Between the groves were significant signs of devastation. Dissimilation. Collapsation. Rubble. Mess.

A giant natural gas explosion had occurred on Friday evening around 6pm. Thirty plus homes ignited on fire as gigantic pieces of asphalt fired up the night sky like meteors from deep within the earth. As of now four people have been confirmed dead. There are several in the hospital fighting for their life and many more worried that they may lose the love of theirs soon.

A woman stood next to me as I lent her my telephoto lens to see her home.

She said to me and her friend,
“Yep. That’s the house. Well what’s left of it at least.”

Her friend says,
“You can see it? How does it look?”

The homeowner replied,
“Well it’s where my home once was; now it just looks like a pile of bricks.”

She began to explain to me that she lived with her aging parents who aren’t able to walk very well and need continual care. I feared the worse as she began to tell me the story. The beautiful Polynesian woman begins to say that her brother had come to take her parents out for dinner while she was at work. She looks at me with such awe and gratefulness. Apparently her brother hadn’t been to see them in a very long time and was surprised that he had shown up that afternoon to spend time with them. She turned to me, took off her glasses, and said,

“It’s a miracle you know. I could have lost my brother and my parents. All of my family in just minutes could have been out of my life forever, but instead they were saved.” And as she cried, I began to tear too.

Right next to her was another man who said he had just moved from that neighborhood to Portland a couple of months ago and had to fly down to help the community. He had lived there for two decades and wanted to do whatever he could to help. If he had stayed and not moved to Portland a few months ago, he would have been homeless.

I stood up on the hilltop. Said a prayer, and maybe even said another prayer to then drive back through San Bruno Avenue towards 101. One of the off shoot roads seemed like a potential for another view of the blast but it turned out to not be a good area since the view was blocked out by the Eucalyptus. As I turned the car around, a girl had just pulled up and was running up to the front door of a nearby home. A woman stood waiting with her arms open. They hugged each other so tight. They were both sobbing and just kept holding each other.

I don’t know the details of that story but I can only imagine what had been going through their minds. What challenges and fears they must have faced. And finally they were able to access a bit of comfort from one another from such horrible neighborhood devastation.


Schwebel Family said…
Thanks for the blog Liz. Someone very close to us lives in that neighborhood and we are very thankful that he, his wife and two young children were spared.

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