02-19-2017  10:37 pm      •     

SAN BRUNO, Calif. — Fire crews sprayed water on smoldering homes Friday morning after a massive explosion apparently triggered by a broken gas line sent flames roaring through a neighborhood near San Francisco, killing six people and injuring dozens, officials said.
Fire crews are still working to douse the blaze and authorities have said there could be other casualties. The number of deaths was rising: San Francisco state Sen. Leland Yee told The Associated Press he was briefed at the scene Friday morning by the California Emergency Management Agency and at least six people have died.
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California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado said at a news conference he knew of at least four people killed and more than 50 injured. He said a natural gas line ruptured at 6:24 p.m. Thursday near the blast but they're not yet sure why. The explosion was heard for miles and shot a fireball more than 1,000 feet in the air and sent frightened residents fleeing for safety and rushing to get belongings out of burning homes. The blast left a giant crater and sent flames tearing across several suburban blocks in San Bruno.
After the initial blast, flames reached as high as 100 feet as the fire fueled itself on burning homes, leaving some in total ruins and reducing parked automobiles to burned out hulks. At least 38 homes were destroyed and dozens more seriously damaged, fire officials said early Friday.
The fire had spread to 15 acres and was 78 percent contained late Thursday.
Maldonado, acting governor while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in Asia on a trade mission, declared a state of emergency in San Mateo County.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said in an e-mailed statement that "if it is ultimately determined that we were responsible for the cause of the incident, we will take accountability."
The company said Friday morning a damaged section of a 30-inch steel gas pipeline had been isolated and gas flow had been stopped. About 300 customers were without gas service and about 700 without electricity at 4 a.m. Friday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Friday that it has sent a four-member team to San Bruno to investigate the blast. The NTSB's duties include investigating pipeline accidents.
Brothers Bob and Ed Pellegrini, whose home was near the center of the explosion, told The Oakland Tribune that they thought an earthquake had struck until they looked out the window.
"It looked like hell on earth. I have never seen a ball of fire that huge," Bob Pellegrini said.
The flames quickly chased them from their home.
"The house is gone," Ed said. "I have nothing. Everything is gone. We're homeless."
Stephanie Mullen, Associated Press news editor for photos based in San Francisco, was attending children's soccer practice with her two children and husband at Crestmoor High School when she saw the blast at 6:14 p.m.
"First, it was a low deep roar and everybody looked up, and we all knew something big was happening," she said. "Then there was a huge explosion with a ball of fire that went up behind the high school several thousand feet into the sky.
"Everybody grabbed their children and ran and put their children in their cars," Mullen said. "It was very clear something awful had happened."
Several minutes later, Mullen was near the fire scene, about a half-mile away in a middle-class neighborhood of 1960s-era homes in hills overlooking San Francisco, the bay and the airport. She said she could feel the heat of the fire on her face although she was three or four blocks away from the blaze. It appeared the fireball was big enough to have engulfed at least several homes.
"I could see families in the backyards of the homes next to where the fire was, bundling their children and trying to get them out of the backyards," she recounted.
She said people in the neighborhood were yelling, "This is awful" and "My family is down there."
Associated Press Writers Juliana Barbassa in San Bruno and Marcus Wohlsen, John S. Marshall and Jason Dearen in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. 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"A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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