San Bruno school evacuates because of unusual smell

A peculiar smell from a heater caused panic at a San Bruno school Thursday morning because the students were just a mile away from a natural gas explosion that killed four and pulverized an entire neighborhood Sept. 9.

A steady stream of parents pulled up to the cafeteria at Parkside Intermediate to pick up more than 200 kids after they were evacuated from Portola Elementary just after class started because someone reported to staff that they smelled gas.

PG&E checked the school’s gas meter around 9:20 a.m., however, and determined there was nothing unusual.

However, fear is at arm’s reach because PG&E investigators still do not know what caused the Sept. 9 explosion that was fueled by streaming gas for nearly two hours, and wrecked 37 homes.

Lanie Hayes, who came to sign out her 11-year-old granddaughter Madeleine, said ordinarily an odd smell at the school wouldn’t be a major concern, but given last week’s events, “I was worried.”

She said the evacuation was the right move. “It’s better to be sure,” Hayes said.

The Millbrae Fire Department said since the school turned its furnace on for the first time this school year, a sensitive carbon dioxide unit emitted on odd stench.

“I know there was some worrisome news, but it was false alarm. There was no gas leak,” Fire Division Commander Rick Ortega said.

Madeleine, a sixth-grader, said she thought it was a drill when the principal announced the evacuation over the loudspeaker while her class was taking a test.

The principal told everyone to get outside quickly, “like a race,” but Madeleine said she didn’t know about the report of a gas smell until she overheard some teachers talking outside.

She wasn’t worried though. “I just thought it’s probably nothing, they’re going to fix it,” she said.

Ernest Delrosario, 37, was dispatched to pick up his girlfriend’s son, 11-year-old Justin.

When Delrosario got the call from his girlfriend, his said his first thought was, “probably another incident,” like last week’s explosion.

“I’m thinking, if it’s happening there, you never know if it’s going to happen anywhere,” he said.

Diljeet Kaur, 35, who came to pick up her fourth-grade son Ricky Singh, said everyone is still on edge from last week’s disaster, though it’s better to be safe.

“We’re really scared for the kids and for everybody,” Kaur said.

The school district’s administrative assistant Irene Monahan shared the same sentiment.

“I think they’re just being extremely cautious,” she said.

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