HOST INTRO: Three years ago, a Con Edison gas leak explosion rocked East Harlem, destroying two 6 story buildings, killing 8 people, and injuring 50 more. Last night, ConEdison and the New York Public Service Commision in Albany came to a settlement: ConEdison will pay 153.3 million dollars to the state to cover the damage and repay former residents at the site of the blast. Our reporter Sarah Gibson talked with locals about what the settlement could mean for them.
SG: It’s lunchtime and deli owner Quasem Larousam is making sandwiches at his shop just two blocks from where the explosion took place three years ago. His original deli was destroyed — and he’s had to pay a lot for his new one. He’s one of a number of business owners suing ConEdison for physical and monetary damages. The minute he learns about the news of the settlement, he calls his lawyer:
Phone ringing Lawyer: everybody’s calling me.
Larousam: How ya doin?
Lawyer: You saw the papers am I right?
Larousam: No there’s a reporter in my store. She’s the one who delivered the news.
SG: In the hours after the explosion, Larousam was buried in the rubble, and he says he now has longterm spine and knee damage. Down the block, Odalis Guzman has been following the news. She’s a hair salon owner and member of the lawsuit with Larousam. She recalls the moment of the explosion like it was yesterday. She had just arrived at her hair salon.
Guzman: I was making coffee I was sitting at my station. And all of a sudden, the explosion and I just flew out my chair and it was horrible. I never thought that I was gonna see or live anything like that.
SG: After the blast, Conedison set up an emergency fund for victims, including business owners, but many say they didn’t see a cent, and that’s one of the reasons for the lawsuit. Guzman says says her emotional recovery was also costly.
Guzman2: It was a long day and a long month. Because we knew the people who in the buildings and some of the people that passed away.
SG: Would they come in here as customers?
Guzman: Yes Yes
SG: You’re smiling right now.
Guzman: George, he had a dog and he would always come in in the morning and say good morning. He was a very nice guy. Very friendly neighbor.
SG: Everyone I talked to remembered George and his dog. There are old pictures of them, with flowers, at the site of the blast. When I asked Community board leaders what this settlement means for families of victims like George and local business owners like Guzman and Larousam they said – they have no idea.
But Conedison and the New York Public Service Commision are confident the settlement will help them. Phillip O’Brien is a spokesman for Conedison. He says of the original $153 million, $20 million is left. He says the vast majority of the 153 million was already spent on education and upgrading local gas lines.
O’Brian: The remaining amount of funds according to the state’s decree will be put into a fund to benefit gas customers, cover the costs to make some more repairs, improve response time and compensate residents and businesses injured by the explosions.
SG: Guzman says: she’ll believe it when she see it. But regardless, some things will never be recovered.
Sarah Gibson, Columbia Radio New