Atmos Energy failed to properly locate and install a device that would have prevented a natural gas explosion last year in Waxahachie, Texas, according to a lawsuit filed in Ellis County by more than 20 homeowners. That explosion, which destroyed several homes and caused multiple other severe injuries and damage, resulted from an Atmos gas line being cut by contractors installing underground fiber optic cable. The lawsuit claims that an excess flow valve should have immediately shut off the leaking gas when the break occurred, but Atmos did not place the valve close enough to the gas main, allowing the deadly gas to escape. The company then didn’t respond when neighbors reported a gas disruption to their homes more than four days prior to the explosion.
This disaster was totally preventable. It’s clear from the information we’ve uncovered that Atmos failed to comply with federal law governing the location of excess flow valves, and provided no degree of oversight in an active construction area, says Tom Carseof Dallas’ Carse Law Firm. Atmos personnel violated the company’s policies and procedures at multiple steps leading to this tragedy. The explosion occurred on the morning of September 21, 2015, when Adelmira Chavez turned on her electric cooktop to prepare breakfast, unaware of the gas line break and the concentrated fumes in her home that had been deodorized by the surrounding soil. Ms. Chavez was severely injured in the resulting blast, suffering second- and third-degree burns on her face, arms, stomach, back and legs, as well as a broken arm. Her brother, Jamie Rodriguez, also suffered severe burns to his face and arms. In addition to Ms. Chavez’s home, three other residences in the path of the explosion are considered total losses, while seven others were significantly damaged. Atmos has never warned its millions of customers that deodorization can and will occur when escaped natural gas passes through soil, although there are low-cost and readily available monitors for home use that can detect leaking natural gas in any form,” says Mr. Carse. It’s a miracle that Ms. Chavez and her brother survived this explosion.