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Residents Return Home After Workers Cap Leaking Gas Well In Los Angeles


People from the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles are starting to return home today. A natural gas well leak in the neighborhood has been permanently sealed. It had been releasing methane and other pollutants into the air for four months. Thousands of people have complained of respiratory illnesses and other problems. And as NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, many are still concerned about their safety and health going forward.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: More than 6,000 households have relocated since the gas started leaking last October. The bulk of those are living elsewhere temporarily at the expense of the Southern California Gas Company. Nancy Salara stayed behind and rode it out in Porter Ranch. She says a pre-existing medical condition kept her from being able to pack up and leave. And like a lot of other people here, she complains of dizziness, lightheadedness and nosebleeds. Things have been pretty tough these last few months.

NANCY SALARA: I've been promised so many things, and then nothing happens. And I'm - I don't know if they're going to give me a true light at the end of the tunnel.

SIEGLER: Salara stopped by a new local assistance center opened by the city of LA today, hoping to get some solid answers. It's just down the street from the condo-covered hillsides beneath the gas wells. Inside this small rec center, state and local disaster officials are crouched over laptops and answering calls about everything from refunds for disruptions in city service to mental health counseling. This center will likely get a lot busier as more Porter Ranch residents start coming home. The gas company has been paying for temporary rentals and hotels for families for months. And now that air-quality regulators are reporting a steep decline in methane level, the company says most have seven more days of that assistance, yet there's growing concern that other areas nearby or affected and in need of aid as well.

DAVID HERNANDEZ: Well, initially when we looked at the Porter Ranch area, we though, OK, well, it was probably going to be of an English-speaking challenge.

SIEGLER: David Hernandez, a local church leader here, estimates that hundreds of Latino families to the east are affected and may not even know that help could be available.

HERNANDEZ: They may be apprehensive about stepping forward and asking for help or access to services based on immigration status, based on the language barrier.

SIEGLER: Hernandez, who isn't affiliated with the newly opened center, stood outside on the sidewalk, hoping to greet families and usher them in to help them navigate through mountains of aid paperwork. As this environmental crisis appears to be waning, the gas company says it's committed to regaining the trust of this community. They're installing air scrubbers and doing weatherization on thousands of homes. Still, residents like Nancy Salara remain skeptical that Porter Ranch is safe.

SALARA: Well, my concern is, what about the other well that are there? These are underlining things they knew about before they built all this, and they didn't really do their research carefully enough and just built on what they should've not built on. And it's just all about money. It's not about the people. It's about money.

SIEGLER: A rally is planned here tonight to call for the permanent closure of the entire gas field. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.

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