Death and destruction descended on a quiet residential neighborhood in San Bruno after a natural gas line exploded Thursday evening.
Hundreds of people were forced to flee the neighborhood that sits on a hill above the Bay and oversees San Francisco International Airport following the explosion just after 6 p.m. Dozens of homes were razed near San Bruno Avenue and Skyline Boulevard and hundreds damaged by the blast and subsequent inferno.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and sources at the scene told The San Francisco Examiner that a 24-inch main gas transmission line was ruptured, but the company said the cause of the blast was still under investigation.
The extent of the injuries and deaths was unclear Thursday night, but the Central Fire dispatch center said at least 75 people were injured. The San Mateo County coroner confirmed at least one person had died.
People began walking into nearby hospitals after the blast, and others who were more seriously injured were transported to other hospitals, including Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Kaiser South San Francisco and Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame.
Two critically injured people were sent to San Francisco General Hospital, and three others were also transported there.
Officials asked people living with a three-quarter-mile radius of the blast to evacuate to one of two centers that were set up. The Red Cross was also on scene to find lodging for those displaced by the fire.
People fled their homes in the aftermath of the explosion, many grabbing whatever items they could before leaving.
Nelah Alash was at home on Vermont Street with three of her daughters, settling down to watch TV in their pajamas when they heard what seemed like three loud booms.
“I’m from Iraq,” Alash said, “and you hear people talking about explosions all the time, but we never thought it would really happen here. We were really scared.”
Daughter Miriam, 13, said, “It was frightening. Our house was near the explosion. Our neighbor’s house was on fire.”
They ran outside, then back into their house, grabbed clothes and went to Tanforan Shopping Center.
They thought about getting a motel, and heard about the evacuation center at the Veterans Hall in San Bruno City Park. Not wanting to be alone, they went there.
Shannon Meyer, 24, of San Bruno was outside the evacuation center with blankets, pillows and stuffed animals, waiting for her brother and grandparents to show up. At 10 p.m., she still hadn’t heard from them.
“This is the final destination. I hope they come,” she said.
Marisa Vasquez, 35, lives on Shelter Creek with her husband and two children.
“There’s no electricity and the area around the house smelled really bad,” she said. “We were scared so we came to the shelter.”
People trying to help flocked to the shelter bringing clothing and food.
Stephanie Mullen, Associated Press news editor for photos based in San Francisco, was attending a youth soccer practice with her two children and husband at Crestmoor High School when she saw the blast at 6:14 p.m.
“First, it was a low deep roar and everybody looked up, and we all knew something big was happening,” she said. “Then there was a huge explosion with a ball of fire that went up behind the high school several thousand feet into the sky.
“Everybody grabbed their children and ran and put their children in their cars. It was very clear something awful had happened.”
Several minutes later, Mullen was near the fire scene. She said she could feel the heat of the fire on her face although she was three or four blocks away from the blaze.
“I could see families in the backyards of the homes next to where the fire was, bundling their children and trying to get them out of the backyards,” she recounted.
The cause of the explosion is now under investigation. The California Public Utilities Commission had an investigator on the scene Thursday night, according to the agency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.