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More skeletal remains found as San Bruno officials struggle to tally the dead

September 12, 2010 |  8:56 am
Michelle Sherwin comforts her daughter, Jessica, at the town hall meeting. They have not been allowed to return to their home since Thursday's explosion.

Some residents are expected to be allowed to return to their homes in San Bruno as officials struggled to get a firm handle on the number of those killed in Thursday's gas pipeline explosion.

On Saturday night, the San Bruno Police Department said seven people had been killed in the blast. But on Sunday morning, a city spokesman, Bill Chiang, said four people are confirmed dead but that  additional skeletal remains have been found.

San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault announced that additional remains had been found in the blast zone and that county coroner's employees were in the process of conducting forensic tests on them.

While some residents will be allowed to return, San Bruno city officials cautioned that those with homes in areas most devastated by the explosion of a natural gas line would not be allowed back in on Sunday. 

Residents were asked to meet at a local college and register so that they can be allowed to return to their homes. Officials said a representative of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. would be available at each home to turn the gas back on.

Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said a 28-foot section of pipe was propelled about 100 feet from a crater that is 167 feet long and 26 feet deep. Investigators could not measure the depth, he said, because the bottom was unstable. 

The NTSB is the lead agency on an investigation that will also include PG&E, which owns and operates the 30-inch-diameter pipeline; the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; and the California Public Utilities Commission.  

Hart said the investigation will consider whether automatic shutoff values should be required on transmission pipelines that run through residential areas.

"That is one of the questions that we'll be looking at," he said. Hart said the valves on either side of the explosion were manual.

-- Paloma Esquivel in San Bruno, Calif.

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Photo: Michelle Sherwin comforts her daughter, Jessica, at the town hall meeting. They have not been allowed to return to their home since Thursday's explosion. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times 

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