On Monday, over a dozen high-ranking public safety officers, elected officials, and other city workers met with residents of "East-East Allegheny."
The purpose: to bring them up to speed on the cause of the massive explosion that brought down two houses on Lovitt Way, and to respond to any questions and concerns.
Michael Huss, the city's Director of Public Safety, led the meeting. Together with chief arson investigator Michael Burns, the two described an investigation that is ongoing, though it appears that an "extraordinary" amount of natural gas poured into 845 Lovitt Way over a brief three-day interval between April 8th and 11th.
The owner of 845 Lovitt resides in a nursing home. The force of the explosion blew the roof off of 845 and onto 847; the lack of any fire or pyrotechnics was considered consistent with a natural gas explosion. A methamphetamine lab explosion, by contrast, would have burned on flame-producing ethanol. The lack of any chemical containers on the scene also argued against a meth lab.
Although previous news reports seemed to rule out a gas leak, Equitable Gas spokesman David Spigelmyer clarified that reports of gas lines being shut off and capped only applied to 847 Lovitt, and had a technical answer for the confusion about 845. The Comet did not follow along so well, but many residents who had been following the explosion closely nodded their heads sagely at the explanation.
Spigelmyer did reassure residents that Equitable Gas has been checking and will continue to check all underground gas lines and other connections in the area; he said to expect to see Equitable Gas trucks in the neighborhood as a matter of routine.
The cause of the leak is still unknown, although Huss suggested for now that theft of copper and other piping as a working hypothesis. "I'm not saying any of you!" he quickly assured the room, "but there are a lot of vacant homes in the area, and you see a lot of that."
Councilwoman Darlene Harris took the floor simply to offer her assistance to anybody adversely affected by the explosion. "Sometimes, it's very hard when you lose a lot."
She said there could be some assistance available from the Spring Garden Neighborhood Council and others, and remained long after the meeting handing out cards and talking to residents.
When the floor was opened for questions, one woman raised her hand and asked, "What about the homeless?"
Jean McCoy has been living in one of the surrounding homes that was badly damaged in the explosion, which will need to be torn down. She was out working when the explosion occurred. City officials were familiar with her dilemma and were extremely solicitous, yet seemed a bit uncertain how to proceed long-term.
Michael Huss said that they would be working with the Housing authority in order to find her a place to live as soon as possible, but admitted to "gaps" in service presently between Housing and those being provided by the Red Cross. Huss called on a representative from Red Cross in the back of the room, who described services available through shelters and other initiatives.
"We're going to take care of Jean," Huss pledged.
Daniel Cipriani, chief of Building Inspections, and the head of Demolitions took the floor to answer some specific questions about what to do if you have an insurance claim, who to call about debris on your property, and what to do if you fear a particular home is unstable. It is unlikely, they said, that the City of Pittsburgh would be liable for anyone's insurance deductible, but the city would do its best to clean up the area and make it safe.
After some more questions, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was introduced. He said of the recovery efforts he had witnessed, "I was proud to be a member of city government."
Ravenstahl would not take one ounce of credit for any of the work carried out by public safety personnel, nor by any others. He credited Director Huss, police investigators, public works, and many others for a rapid and professional response.
"Our work is not done and we realize that. We're just extremely fortunate that no one was injured."
Operations director Arthur Victor was also on hand, and his message was simple. "If you don't take anything else away from this meeting, remember to call 3-1-1 with any questions."
Fire chief Darryl Jones would only add his own appreciation for "fine job of the arson squad", before he intoned gravely, "We're gonna make sure this doesn't happen again."
A final comment from a resident thanked all those assembled for a job well done, and the City of Pittsburgh earned a modest but heartfelt round of applause.
Public Works director Guy Costa was also on hand, making certain all bloggers residing near the blast zone had comfortable seating at the very front of the room.
The Spring Garden-East Deutschtown Community Council has enlisted the Northside Leadership Conference to administer a relief fund set up for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed in a natural gas explosion on Lovitt Way last week.
Donations may be made to the East Deutschtown Explosion Relief Fund in care of the Northside Leadership Conference, 4 Allegheny Center, Suite 601, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, e-mail Kelly MacKay at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 412-330-2559. (Tribune-Review)