Christmas of Coping for Residents Who Remain in Gas Leak-Plagued Porter Ranch

Delays in finding rental housing away from the gas leak keep many Porter Ranch residents home for the holidays.

It's understandable if some in gas leak-plagued Porter Ranch mistook the man from Canoga Park Heating and Air for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, for he delivered — and installed — an in-demand present: an air scrubber system.

"It seems to be working, because I really don't smell anything in here," said homeowner Susan Whiteside, who got the scrubber to go along with charcoal air filters and new weatherstripping to
keep out odors.
"Right now, it's in high demand," said installer Mark Pearson. Needing to bolster supplies, Pearson's company found an east coast distributor to ship another 2,000, he said.
There is also high demand for temporary accommodations away from Porter Ranch. The gas leak from a well in the SoCalGas storage facility to the north became apparent on Oct. 23, and efforts to stop it could take several more months, the Gas Company has said.


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SoCalGas is providing relocation assistance and covering the temporary housing costs. With some two thousand households already relocated, by the Gas Company's count, and another 2,694 "in process," finding close-by housing rentals suitable for families has become increasingly difficult.
The Chase family began looking for alternative housing last month, never expecting to still be in their house with the portable air filter missions running on Christmas Eve.
"The house normally looks like Macy's at Christmas," lamented Deborah Chase, wife and mother with two boys, ages 12 and 14, at home. "Now we have a tabletop tree on a grooming table
because that's as far as we've gotten. Because we planned on moving out in November."
Rentals that become available are often some distance away from Porter Ranch, and in some cases, south of the Hollywood Hills.
"In LA traffic, it's unrealistic to drive two hours to take kids to school," Chase said.
The Gas Company is covering pet boarding costs, but the Chase family hopes to find a rental that can accept Jackson, their Australian labradoodle. What's more, Deborah Chase said she has a carpet allergy that rules out places that don't have hard floors throughout.
She has not given up her search, but is resigned to relying on the air filtration machine through the holidays.
"This is not the Christmas I was hoping for," said Deborah Chase.
Her neighbors down the block, the Okonowskys, have also added air filtration and are planning to stay, but worry about their adult daughter Wendy, who is wheelchair bound with advanced multiple sclerosis.
"There is no house available without rebuilding an existing house to suit, that would accommodate Wendy," said father Jerry Okonowsky, a retired general contractor who years ago added a walk-in shower, an elevator, and other renovations to her nearby Porter Ranch house so she could stay there.
Okonowsky said he believes odors cannot be kept out of the house without replacing its aging metal-framed windows, and hopes the Gas Company will cover the cost, as it is doing with weatherstripping and caulking. But new windows are not part of the program, a Gas Company spokesman said. 
After reporting on the Okonowsky situation during the NBC4 News at 5 p.m., NBC4 received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as with a window company offering to replace the windows in Wendy Okonowsky's house without charge.
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