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Crews Searching for Victims of PG&E California Pipeline Blast

Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- A fire sparked by a PG&E Corp. natural-gas pipeline explosion that killed four people in a San Francisco suburb is 90 percent contained and searches of burned-out homes have turned up no new victims, California’s emergency agency said today.

Crews and search dogs were waiting for some houses to cool before completing a sweep of a 15-acre area that was burned after a pipeline rupture on Sept. 9 in San Bruno, California, said Jordan Scott, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency, in a telephone interview.

No one from the affected neighborhood, which is about two miles (3.2 kilometers) west of San Francisco International Airport, has been reported missing, San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag said yesterday.

Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is overseeing the probe into the cause of the incident which destroyed 37 homes, are touring the site today, Scott said.

The agency will look into the condition of the 30-inch (76-centimeter) pipeline owned by PG&E, its maintenance history and the qualifications and training of pipeline workers, Vice Chairman Christopher Hart said at a press conference yesterday evening in San Bruno. Investigators will also examine the company’s emergency response plans and its performance, Hart said.

PG&E, based in San Francisco, said the NTSB will look into reports that neighbors smelled gas and notified the utility in the days before the explosion, company spokesman Brian Swanson said today in a telephone interview.

Cause of Blast

The utility had no crews working in the area at the time of the incident and is investigating whether others may have been digging there, Chris Johns, president of PG&E’s Pacific Gas & Electric utility, told reporters yesterday.

In addition to the four deaths, three people were critically injured with third-degree burns, Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, who is serving as acting governor of the state while Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Asia, said yesterday. Another 52 fire victims and four firefighters received treatment at a local hospital, he said.

The company has $992 million in liability insurance for damages caused by fire, according to a public filing yesterday.

“If it is ultimately determined that we were responsible for the cause of the incident, we will take accountability,” PG&E said in an e-mailed statement.

Financial results “could be materially adversely affected” if, after the explosion is investigated, insurance is insufficient or unavailable, PG&E said.

PG&E dropped 8.4 percent to $44.21 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading yesterday. The decline, PG&E’s biggest since October 2008, wiped out more than $1.5 billion in market value.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Chediak in San Francisco at mchediak@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net.

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