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Assistance is overflowing in San Bruno neighborhood, but frustration builds with displaced residents

September 11, 2010 |  2:20 pm

Outside the blast zone in San Bruno, a neighborhood gymnasium and park have been transformed into a one-stop assistance center for those still displaced three days after the destructive explosion.

The city recreation center and its grounds have become a bazaar of companies and organizations: carpet cleaners, insurers, animal services agencies, the Mexican consulate -- even volunteer ministers with the Church of Scientology wearing firefighter-like yellow suits had set up a table.

While the Lions Club served snacks outside, a stream of cars wheeled into the park offering donations of food, clothing and basic necessities.

Cherie Sekulich, 35, hasn't been home since the flames burned within two feet of her house on 1460 Claremont Drive, destroying the backyard deck. She said some of her neighbors ran down the street, away from the flames, barefoot, some in pajamas or underwear.

"All I could grab was my two cats, my two birds and my dog," she said, speaking while the rest of her family conferred with their next-door neighbors in the gymnasium.

She and other evacuees said they were grateful for the companies and agencies offering vouchers for hotels, food and clothing to replace their smoky clothes or pajamas they were wearing when they abruptly had to abandon their homes.

"It's nice to know that the companies around here that have a vested interest don't forget about us," she said.

Sekulich and other displaced residents, however, expressed increasing frustration about not being let back onto their property.

Sekulich said she is faced with a third night using vouchers to stay at a hotel with her brother, mother, father and pets and is getting impatient waiting.

"We're trying to get back to our homes, but we're getting the run-around," she said.

The Sekulich family has lived in the neighborhood more than 30 years, but had no clue they were so close to a high-pressure gas transmission line.

"I've lived here in this house my whole life, but no one ever disclosed to us when my parents bought the house that there was something so dangerous, so close to us," she said. "It's just mind-boggling that they wouldn't tell us."

She said neighbors closer to the blast site told her recently about smelling gas coming out from vents in the street, but she had never noticed it herself.

Pacific Gas & Electric said Saturday it has so far not found any records of residents complaining about the smell of gas.

-- Tony Barboza from San Bruno