Local Woman Among Volunteers in Deadly Explosion

The scene near San Francisco is described as 'hell on earth'

By Michelle Wayland
|  Friday, Sep 10, 2010  |  Updated 10:05 AM PDT
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Dramatic Photos: Remembering the Fire

AP

A massive fire roars through a mostly residential neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. A massive fire burned homes as it roared through a mostly residential neighborhood in the hills south of San Francisco following a loud explosion Thursday evening that shot a fireball more than 1,000 feet into the air and sent frightened residents fleeing for safety, witnesses said. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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More than 100 people were being sheltered at nearby evacuation centers overnight after a massive explosion killed at least six people and destroyed more than 50 houses near San Francisco.

Between 150 and 200 firefighters remained at the scene through the night. Among them was a Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) volunteer from San Diego.

“The Red Cross is here. We take lists, names, phone numbers of people who are really in need of that immediately,” said volunteer Maria Strain.

"It looked like hell on earth. I have never seen a ball of fire that huge," Bob Pellegrini said, whose home was near the center of the explosion.

Pellegrini told The Oakland Tribune that they thought an earthquake had struck until they looked out the window.

The flames quickly chased Pellegrini and his brother from their home.

"The house is gone," Ed Pellegrini said. "I have nothing. Everything is gone. We're homeless."

Some of the people in the San Bruno neighborhood got out of their homes with just the clothes on their backs. Some didn't even have shoes.

“The responsibility that I have right now is to make sure that the information gets out to the people, the people who have been affected by this devastation and to get whatever information is needed, food, shelter, any medications needed,” Strain said.

Judy Serrsseque said she heard an explosion, saw that fire was headed toward their home and knew they had to leave. As they fled, they said they saw people burned and people struggling to get their things out of burning houses.

"We got everything together, and we just got out," Serrsseque said. "Mostly we're wondering if we have a house to go back to."

A lot of the heavy lifting to bring back some normalcy falls on volunteers from organizations like CERT.

“We actually trained for disaster preparedness for six weeks. We’re really an administrative arm to the fire department and that’s just something that we do, we’re here to help any way we can,” Strain said.

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