PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The family of Mark Keeley, 19, the PGW worker killed in an enormous gas main explosion Tuesday night, returned to the scene of that explosion Thursday afternoon.
Family members hugged PGW crew members and looked over the rubble that is all that remains of 6932 Torresdale Avenue.
Earlier in the day, one of the injured firefighters broke his silence to Eyewitness News.
“I just saw red light and then a boom. They said I was tossed about 20 feet. What saved me was my gear without a doubt,” Firefighter Don Pearl said.
“I tried to run and I couldn’t. I just remember rolling and then a lieutenant coming over and grabbing me,” Pearl added.
He was rushed to the hospital but has since been released and is now home wearing a body brace and still in a lot of pain.
Pearl said, “I just remember checking for my fingers and toes, making sure I still had my hands and my feet.”
In all, authorities say two firefighters were hurt along with four PGW workers, three of them remain hospitalized. One PGW worker was killed in the blast, Keeley, who was a 2009 Cardinal Dougherty graduate. Keeley’s father, Thomas, has been a part of the gas company for 17 years. Mark followed in his footsteps just 4 months ago.
“I’m 20 years older than the kid and my son’s going to be 18, I can’t imagine that,” Pearl added that he will recover just fine so his thoughts and concern remain with the others more seriously hurt and the Keeley family.
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Others back at the site of the explosion echoed the sentiment. Barbara Coyle’s owned Hairworks at Vanity Villa for 25 years. Her building will be torn down so she returned to pick up what little she could salvage but she considers herself fortunate.
“This is nothing. They’re material things and I know it’s my livelihood but it’s not my child,” Coyle explained.
Meanwhile, there are still plenty of questions about that incident and about the gas main that ruptured. PGW says the main is 71 years old but does not have a record of problems. In every neighborhood across the city, PGW is facing old gas lines, some dating back to 1898, that are getting older by the day.
“They have an infrastructure issue and they’ve always had one,” said Phil Bertocci, consumer advocate for PGW’s customers, but he says PGW actually does a pretty good job replacing as many gas lines as possible.
There are 6,000 miles of gas lines in the city of Philadelphia, enough to stretch from Boston to Los Angeles and back. Every year, PGW replaces 18 miles of gas lines, only enough to go from Center City to King of Prussia.
“Everyone would like them to replace all of it, but it’s completely unaffordable,” said Bertocci. “You have to weigh that against the resources that you have, and the resources that you have are all paid by customers.”
He says it costs about $1 million per mile to replace a gas main.
“I do think what they do is sufficient. Their level of breaks is equal to or less than other utilities,” he said.
And incidents similar to what happened Tuesday are actually pretty common across the country.
“Incidents like this happen at least once a week in this country, probably every couple of days,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust.
Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3; Elizabeth Hur, CBS 3