‘Step in the Right Direction’: Relief, Questions After Porter Ranch Gas Leak Temporarily Controlled

While a massive gas leak that spewed uncontrollably for nearly four months has been temporarily controlled, the road to recovery begins for thousands of Porter Ranch residents who were forced to relocate amid the crisis.

The announcement made by Southern California Gas Co. Thursday, marked a milestone in efforts to stop methane gas from leaking in the Aliso Canyon Storage Facility first reported Oct. 23.

The news also brought relief to more than 4,600 households who are living in temporary housing, many of which complained of headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other ailments they believe are linked to the gas leak.

"We have an enormous amount of work to do, but for us to breathe clean air for the first time in three and a half months is huge," said Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council president Paula Cracium.

Cracium, who lives in the area, says the temporary cap is a step in the right direction but notes that it is the "beginning of an end of a major crisis."

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer agrees. On Friday, Boxer met with several Porter Ranch residents to hear their concerns before an afternoon press conference.

While Boxer said she was hopeful that a permanent solution would be imminent, she also called for an independent air quality audit inside and outside of homes in the affected area.

"We are dealing with entities that have not been trustworthy," said Boxer. "What I want answered is what are the next steps to make sure this doesn't happen and this area is safe again."

According to the utility, a relief well more than a mile long intercepted the leaking well, and crews began pumping heavy fluids to control the flow of gas on Thursday. Cement will be injected from the relief well into the faulty well as part of the permanent cap. SoCalGas said that could happen in the next couple of days.

Once State officials confirm the leak has stopped, residents who have been relocated from their homes will have up to eight days to move back to their homes. People living in temporary housing with extended leases will have until those leases run out to return home.

However, news of the multi-step effort continued to raise questions on health impacts and the road to recovery.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich said he and his staff were able to smell the methane at a community meeting Thursday.

"While the temporary containment of the Aliso Canyon well is good news, the victims' needs cannot be ignored," said Antonovich. "Our residents, who have had to deal with this crisis since October 23rd and have had their holidays ruined and forced them out of their homes and schools, now have to bear the burden of rebuilding normal lives -- still face uncertainty and fear of a repeated disaster from the remaining wells."

Antonovich is calling for residents to get 30 days to return home instead of eight.

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 students at two Los Angeles Unified School District campuses were also forced to move due to the leak and concerns about its impact. The relocated students are expected to continue classes at their temporary campuses until the end of the school year.

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have said they do not believe the gas leak poses any long-term risk, but it plans to continue monitoring air quality in the area.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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