Massive San Bruno Blaze Affects Filipino Americans

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SAN BRUNO, Calif. - Just a little past 6 p.m. on Sept. 9, residents of San Bruno experienced one of the worst tragedies to hit the San Francisco Bay Area.

The suburban neighborhood, just 12 miles south of San Francisco, turned into a raging inferno. Balitang America, the nightly news program of Redwood City-based ABS-CBN The Filipino Channel, has confirmed that at least three Filipino homes were burnt to the ground.

Residents say it all began with a loud explosion that shook the neighborhood.

Paulita Fandino thought a plane had crashed. She said, “We heard a loud bang. It was so loud. We felt the house shake.”

Her son, Mike, thought it was a terrorist attack. He said, “I thought it was like 9/11 all over again. After the explosion, there were ashes and black smoke everywhere.”

But it was neither a plane crash, nor a terrorist attack. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) officials say its natural gas line ruptured, leaving a giant crater that sent flames spreading across several blocks.

Martin Mata and Valerie Concepcion live just a few blocks away from the worst hit area.

Mata said, with the strong winds, the fire could reach their homes. “We’re going to [be] ready to move out and evacuate just in case it gets worse.”

“Safety comes first. Just get out of there as soon as you can,” said Concepcion.

Hundreds of people were immediately asked to evacuate. Others like the Fandinos took their time, making sure all family members were accounted for.

“We took the most valuable stuff. But lives are more important,” said Danilet Fandino.

The Fandinos made sure to bring their passports, citizenship papers and especially their mother’s medicines.

They then sought help at the Bayhill Shopping Center, one of the evacuation areas.

“We have food, beverages for everybody. The Red Cross is helping people with temporary shelters, helping them get through this tragic event,” said Detective Sean O’Donnell of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

California has declared a state of emergency in San Mateo County, which brought in support from different parts of the state.

California Senator Leland Yee said: “We have helicopters and trucks up there. Unfortunately, because of the explosion, it compromised the water mains and as a result, we have to cart up water all the way up there.”

A search for those missing began this morning. Emergency workers fear there may be more people injured or dead.

As of press time, six people are dead, more than 50 are injured, 38 homes have been destroyed and more than 200 homes suffered damages.

More than 3,000 Filipinos live in San Bruno.

The Philippine Consulate in San Francisco is coordinating with local officials to determine how many Filipinos were affected by the raging fire.