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San Bruno Scars Remain For Survivors, Neighborhood

GARANCE BURKE

SAN BRUNO, Calif. (AP) â¿¿ The young man staggered into his neighbor's driveway, his body still smoking from the explosion that mangled his torso and sparked a gas-fueled fireball rising fast above this San Francisco suburb.

His girlfriend had been at his side but was nowhere to be seen as he collapsed into his neighbor's car.

Somehow they kept him lucid in the backseat, even as Joseph Ruigomez shut his eyes against the pain and the flames tearing through their street.

"I kept telling Joe, 'Don't close your eyes,'" said Tammy Zapata, who lives only a block from the site where a massive gas transmission line ruptured the evening of Sept. 9, 2010. "We kept praying for him the whole way to the emergency room."

One year after the explosion in San Bruno, Calif., Zapata, Ruigomez and hundreds of other survivors are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

Eight people were killed, dozens were injured and 38 homes overlooking San Francisco Bay were torched to the ground. The nation's deadliest gas explosion in a decade sparked a blaze that spread across 15 acres and left a 26-foot wide crater that still gapes at the bottom of the street where the pipeline ran.

Like many victims, Zapata keeps reliving the panic of that night in her mind.

"I just keep thinking about what Joe looked like when he came up the street. His face was all ash," said Zapata, 49, a real estate agent. "It looked like he was wearing a shredded t-shirt, but I looked closer and it was all his skin melting off. I knew we had to get him out of there or he was going to leave us."

Ruigomez's girlfriend, 20-year-old Jessica Morales, was visiting his house to watch the first game of the NFL season when the initial explosion ripped through the neighborhood. Side-by-side they tried to flee the house, but a second blast engulfed them. The next thing Ruigomez knew, he was staggering in the street. Her body was found in a neighbor's shed.

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