By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Following a fund drive and private donations, life moves on for a Gainesville family made homeless by a house explosion on Jan. 24.
Family friend and employer Laurie Leahy said Alma and Martin Martinez, formerly of 221 W. Tennie St., have settled into a rental home in South Gainesville with their two children.
Leahy, owner of Gainesville homeware company Thirstystone Resources, Inc., has served as spokesperson for the Martinez fundraisers, having spearheaded benefit efforts since the four were displaced.
She said the family received slightly more than $6,000 and have received replacements for their vehicle and immediate domestic items such as clothes and clothing, plus some food.
“They’re as settled as they can be, I guess, after losing everything,” she said.
Recapping the incident
The explosion — an injury-free disaster, owing to an emergency evacuation of Tennie Street homes by Atmos Energy employees — was triggered by a natural gas leak on the home’s property.
The leak was first discovered by City of Gainesville employees while they repaired a faulty water line hours before sunrise.
The explosion’s spark of ignition still remains under investigation by local and state authorities. Gainesville officials, plus agents of Atmos Energy and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), are reportedly conducting their own separate inspections and full details about the explosion are not expected until late April or early May.
Gaye McElwain of the Railroad Commission of Texas released a preliminary incident report in early February that indicated the leak’s cause and Gainesville city officials concurred.
“The City of Gainesville water utility crew was on scene for a leaking water line. During the repair of the line, water leaked and created a sink hole which caused a truck in the area to start sinking,” the report read. “When the truck started sinking it ripped the service line out of the service tap which led to the release of natural gas. The incident occurred at approximately at 05:30am and Atmos Energy was onsite by 05:41am to shut off gas to the service line and begin repairs. The leak was stopped and the area was made safe at 12:00pm.
“About 0530 is when line was cut and Atmos was called out to shut off gas to the service line,” the report continued. “At about 7am the explosion occurred and first responders were onsite about 7:02am. RRC inspector J.W. Riley arrived onsite about 09:35am along with Goodluck and Eliel. There have been no fatalities or injuries reported.”
The unknown continues
City Manager Barry Sullivan said the Martinez family elected to participate in the city’s voluntary demolition program and what remains of the Tennie Street house is set for tear-down within two weeks.
The lingering unknown is the explosion’s spark. Sullivan cited the Gainesville Fire Department’s final report results of “undetermined” while conceding that RRC and Atmos Energy continue to investigate.
“Truthfully, I don’t know if the actual source will ever be found,” he said. “It’s one of those things that can be problematic.”
“The issue,” she added, “is that a city truck fell through a hole and hit a gas line and then a family of four was not only homeless, but without a single possession.”
Leahy did credit Atmos Energy for giving the Martinez family $3,000 shortly after the incident, which reportedly went toward purchasing a vehicle.
“Even their lawnmower blew up,” Leahy said, and then drew distinctions between a house explosion and a natural disaster such as a hurricane. “There, you’re going to be immediately able to apply for a bunch of federal aid. Whereas here they can’t, since, at the moment, it’s nobody’s responsibility.”
Leahy said she perceives the Martinez family as four people looking for nothing from anyone except to go to work, do their jobs and lead their lives.
“We worry so much about the litigation that we lose sight of the fact that it’s four human beings who lost everything,” she said.
A “Martinez Benefit Fund” donation account remains available at First State Bank of Gainesville. Call 665-1711.