Columbia gas offer called "offensive" by explosion victims - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Columbia gas offer called "offensive" by explosion victims

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When the December 11 natural gas explosion happened in Sissonville, Margaret Johnson was in her pajamas. She had just returned from the doctor and was settling in for a restful afternoon.

She felt the heat before she saw the fire. But it was the noise that she remembers the clearest. A loud sound best compared to a jet engine.

"That's what I thought it was. I thought a plane was about to land on my house," Johnson said. "I ran from one end of my house to the other. I didn't know what to do."

In her pajamas, barefoot, and without her dentures, Johnson left her home. Her car's door handle was hot to the touch. She jerked her hand away, hurting her wrist.

By the time the gas line had been shut down, the neighborhood was forever changed. Houses were leveled, animals were killed and the "lucky ones" were able to see the charred remains of their homes.

Johnson's house was far away enough that she has relatively little damage when compared to her neighbors. Her siding is melted, but still in tact. Her wooden from porch is warped from the heat and she has been told that the damage to her roof means she'll have to have it completely replaced. Inside, where the explosion rumbled her walls, a $300 clock fell and shattered. That is just one of the things shattered inside her home.

"It doesn't feel like my home anymore," she said. "It looks like a war zone."

All told, Johnson said it would cost $40,000 to fix.

That doesn't include the set of $1,500 dentures that she cannot find since the fire.

Columbia Gas made their final offer to Johnson, and her son Mark Boggs Tuesday. They were willing to pay them $37,250: The cost of the home repairs, but not the cost of the personal items that were damaged. The agreement also said that if they signed it, they could never ask Columbia or its parent company NiSource for further payments if they found damage down the road. Johnson is concerned about mold growing in the house and possible cracks in the foundation.

"It was an insult," said Johnson.

She declined Columbia's offer.

When she did that, Bruce Reynolds, an Asset Manager for Columbia Gas reportedly said to Johnson that the company would not pay for another night in the Embassy Suites.

"He said, 'Checkout is at 11,'" Johnson recalled from her conversation Tuesday.

Wednesday morning, Johnson and her son Mark Boggs packed their bags and left their corner suite. They were returning to their Sissonville property where there is no cable, Internet or land line telephone.

The Sissonville house was purchased 18 months ago for Johnson shortly after Boggs won a $1 million prize playing the lottery.

"She had a townhouse and she didn't like it. I wanted her to be someplace safe," said Boggs. "Funny how things turn out."

Johnson said she is scheduling a meeting with an attorney. She plans to let the insurance company handle the repairs and "let them fight it out" with Columbia.

Columbia sent the following statement to 13News:

"Columbia is committed to helping the residents of Sissonville impacted by the incident and doing the right thing. We have been actively working with affected residents and continue to provide assistance - temporary housing and other essentials - to those still in need. Our support will continue as long as necessary to help these families’ lives return to normal."

They would not comment on specific cases, citing privacy for the families.

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