SAN BRUNO -- Carol Piunti took the day off from work Tuesday to help fill the gouge left in her neighborhood by the deadly rupture of a PG&E gas pipeline.
"I needed to throw dirt on that hole just to say, 'I survived you,'" she said after shoveling some soil into the crater. "For me it was that final 'I beat you' to the blast."
About 50 residents, officials and city workers gathered at 11 a.m. for a ceremony to close the 72-foot-long by 26-foot-wide pit from which so much fire and destruction poured into their community. The blast and resulting fireball on Sept. 9, 2010, killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
After the ceremony was complete, Pacific Gas & Electric moved in to finish filling in the hole. No one from the utility attended the ceremony.
Before throwing the first shovel of dirt into the crater and over the pipe, which is now capped off, San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane said the stretch of exploded line will forever remain out of service. In the days after the blast, residents threatened not to return to the neighborhood if the pipe were repaired and again used to move gas. PG&E met their demand.
"This pipe is empty and will never be filled again," the mayor said, drawing applause.
Because the line blew up beneath Glenview Drive, the road has been closed since the explosion. Since it's the only entrance point on the south side of the neighborhood, residents are eager to have it back. With the hole closed, the city will begin fixing the road and sidewalks. City Manager Connie Jackson said the work will take about three weeks.
Piunti's mother, Lorraine Piunti, was the first resident to toss some soil into the hole. She said she came to the ceremony for some closure.
Lorraine was talking by phone to her daughter when she saw the flames from the pipe blast. As she stood on the porch of her home off Earl Avenue, she witnessed the explosion, told her daughter the neighborhood was on fire and dropped the phone.
Terrified, Carol called a neighbor, who helped her mother into a car and took her to safety. The family's home, which they bought right after it was built in 1960, was not destroyed.
"I feel good," said Lorraine Piunti, who has used a walker since a fall in January, as she made her way home.
The damage is still apparent in the neighborhood, which is marked by stretches of empty lots that once held homes. But construction crews are busy rebuilding, and the frames of four new houses have been erected so far. The most recent numbers show the city has issued eight building permits, and is working with another 16 families who are in some phase of restoring their homes, said Community Development Director Aaron Aknin. PG&E has bought out the properties of five families.
Bob and Nancy Hensel, who each tossed a shovelful of dirt into the crater Tuesday, are among those coming back. They were the first to get a building permit and hope to move in by the start of 2012.
Bob Hensel said he came to the crater-closing ceremony because it's an important milestone for the community, but also to see all the people scattered by the tragedy.
"I just honestly wanted to be at the crater to talk with my neighbors," he said.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335.