Three years ago yesterday, Debra Marks had just finished moving into her home in the Crestmoor neighborhood in San Bruno when her life was changed forever. The Daily Journal spoke with Marks on the three-year anniversary of the explosion and fire that marred her neighborhood.
Marks, 57, a psychologist in San Francisco, was sitting watching television with her partner when they heard an enormous explosion.
The two were 700 feet from the epicenter of a Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline explosion and fire that ultimately killed eight people. Sixty-six people were injured on Sept. 9, 2010, while the explosion and resulting shock wave registered as a magnitude 1.1 earthquake.
Marks had purchased the home two and half months prior to the explosion, after living in San Francisco for more than 30 years. It was a move that was decided upon because of health reasons. She also brought her two then-11-month-old kittens.
“There was the stress of moving and finding the right place not too far from city because we both worked in the city,” Marks said. “It landed us in San Bruno. A lot of things went wrong with the move and we had just finished changes we needed to make to the house, upgrades, getting all window coverings a couple of days before, then the explosion happened.
“What I remember is a horrific sound and shaking that I couldn’t place,” Marks said. “The sound came first in my recollection. I remember saying what is that? My partner said, ‘I think it’s a plane.’ Then the whole house started to shake in a way that was very different from an earthquake. I felt like the home was going in every direction simultaneously, then I heard an enormous explosion.”
Marks recounted one of the kittens flying straight up in the air. She then walked to the front of the house and saw a massive fireball in the front window.
“I could feel the heat and called to my partner, saying oh my god, oh my god!” she said.
She knew they had to get out and they went to look for their cats. They ended up getting out of the house in six minutes. They proceeded to the Church of the Highlands and perched themselves there. She said her partner started to shake furiously as the shock settled in and it was a really a powerful moment for them that has not gone away.
“What saved us was that the wind was blowing in the opposite direction of our home,” Marks said. If the wind were blowing in reverse, we would not have a home.”
Damage to the home included a wall left with a curvature, damage to the foundation, a cracked and broken sewer pipe, along with pieces of the road landing in their yard. Marks and her partner stayed with a friend in San Francisco with the cats and moved back in the day after the evacuation was lifted.
Most of the damage was fixed the following January and February, but there is some work still left undone. Damage to the floor would require sanding out the entire place.
“We just couldn’t take it on,” Marks said. “Everything was too much and it requires us leaving the house.”
How has the event changed Marks?
“I think it’s made me aware that every day is full of triggers,” Marks said. “It’s made me more aware that trauma is not neat, it can be very long-lasting. I didn’t know neighbors before the explosion because we had just moved into the neighborhood, so I’ve met them and listening to how affected they are by this. I’ve seen the different stages of trauma they’ve gone through: the hopelessness, powerlessness and learned the feeling of complete powerlessness over every aspect of this explosion with PG&E, the courts, the city, construction, the timeline, the excuses.”
Over and over again you’re realizing you have no control, Marks said.
“As human beings we like control, but ultimately we don’t have control,” Marks said. “I’ve coped through my own personal work on myself, by trying to find the lesson in this and by trying to lead neighbors through having community meetings with the city to get their voices heard. Some days are OK and some days are not, today is not. I think the hardest part is knowing that this is going to drag on for a very long time and that it’s a never-ending process for us still living it every day.”
What are her hopes for the future of the neighborhood?
“My first hope is that this will be done, all construction and repairs, so we can have some peace and cleanliness around here,” she said. “I hope we can all heal from this to the best of our individual abilities. My fantasy hope is that the CEO of PG&E would sit down with me and hear my story. I have not gotten any indication that settlement has been reached. For me, a lawsuit was never about the money, it was about being heard, so even when it settles it’s going to fall flat for me.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105