“I heard the boom, which sounded to me like a bomb,” Debra Strandberg said.
It’s a night the Strandbergs won’t forget.
“I heard Debbie screaming,” her husband, Tom said.
The night – their home in Reading — exploded.
“I thought it was terrorists,” Debra said.
The floor shook-
Doors blew out-
“It was like a vacuum. It was sucking all the dust and everything with it,” Tom said.
Their injuries were minor-
But their house – destroyed.
“The basement foundation was actually cracked. Furniture and stuff was actually blown right out of the house,” Debra said.
The cause? A natural gas leak – from a pipe out in the street.
Fumes had filled their basement – and when the furnace kicked on – the house exploded.
“No warning. No. It was awful,” Debra said.
And listen to this: the Strandbergs say they could smell gas on their street for years.
“We had called the gas department, even the fire department and nothing was ever done,” Debra said.
7News obtained this Department of Public Utilities report on the explosion – the gas company admits it was aware of several gas leaks on the Strandberg’s street – and had done small repairs on the 80-year old cast iron pipe before the explosion.
But those fixes – weren’t enough.
And the problem wasn’t only in Reading.
“When you open your windows and doors to your house, all you would smell- gas!”, a Peabody resident said.
For much of the past summer, gas fumes overwhelmed this Peabody neighborhood.
“This is an emergency situation,” a resident said.
“There was gas odors in my basement,” a homeowner said.
The gas company told 7News it originally found one leak in the area in June. Then later found two more leaks.
“You can patch a 100 year old pipe, and it’s just going to leak somewhere else down the line,” Nathan Phillips a gas researcher from Boston University said.
7News brought Phillips to the Peabody neighborhood before all the leaks were fixed.
After testing the levels of gas — he called the situation dangerous.
“If there were a spark underneath that cavity -then it’s at risk of exploding- yes,” Phillips said.
Residents in the area tell us days, even weeks went by, with no sign of any work and they feel the repairs took too long.
“I go to bed at night and all you can smell is gas,” another resident said.
Almost three months after the gas company found the first leak – all the leaks were fixed: the old metal pipe replaced with a strong new plastic one.
Experts tell 7news – this was just one of more than 20-thousand active gas leaks in massachusetts.
And what’s more troubling – the gas companies can take as long as they want to fix them.
Right now there are no state or federal laws dictating how quickly those leaking pipes must be repaired or replaced.
Senator Ed Markey-wants to change that.
“Massachusetts has one of the oldest pipeline systems in the united states and so these are real problems. It should be dealt with- dealt with in an immediate fashion,” Markey said.
There is action at the State House as well. Legislation is being debated that would set-up timelines for gas companies to fix leaks, requiring severe leaks to be repaired immediately.