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‘We’re Really Frustrated’

Homeowner’s insurance company seeks damages from WGL.

— Leaving a recent meeting of the Brookfield Civic Association, Thuan Nguyen was not a happy man. After losing his home in a December 2010 gas explosion, he and his family carried on with their lives, but never received definitive answers regarding what caused the blast.

"We’re really frustrated," he said. "We need to know what happened and what caused the problems."

A year has come and gone since the explosion but, said Nguyen, ‘We never had any contact from Washington Gas still. I spoke to the State Corporation Commission. I haven’t read the report, yet, but it seems like Washington Gas’s fault. We lost so much and, if it was their fault, we’d like to have back what we lost in the explosion."

He said he’s received no financial assistance from the gas company, and his homeowners’ insurance "helped very little." Nguyen said he and his family decided to rebuild on the same spot because they like their Brookfield neighborhood and the schools serving it – and also because the $216,000 their insurance company gave them was "too little to go anywhere else."

And now that insurance company has just submitted a claim to Washington Gas for damages. Nguyen said he and his wife "haven’t talked about suing Washington Gas, but my homeowners’ insurance company is asking for their money back" from the company.

Meanwhile, he’s had to use his own funds to rebuild their house while he and his wife and sons live in a rental home in Brookfield. But it’s been difficult living there, said Nguyen, because "we don’t feel like it’s home. Nothing is familiar there, and the children ask when they can go back home."

His oldest son, 14, is a freshman at Chantilly High, and his youngest, 6, is a Brookfield Elementary first-grader. Last year, the teen attended Rocky Run Middle and, said his dad, "Every day, we had to pass [the site of] our old house while I drove him to school, and it made us sad."

Besides that, said Nguyen, since everything they owned was demolished in the explosion, "We have no memories left." All that remains are the clothes they wore that night, six days before Christmas 2010, when they left home and headed to a restaurant in Manassas.

"We left the house at 6 p.m. for dinner and finished at 8 p.m.," recalled Nguyen. "It was a miracle — we were planning to go straight home, but the children wanted to see the Christmas light show at Bull Run, on the way back, so we saw it. We were in the car driving home from it when I got the phone call from my neighbor [about the explosion]."

The house blew up around 8:45 p.m. and, said Nguyen, "When I got home, I could see nothing — only fire. If we didn’t go to the Christmas light show, we might have been home at the time of the explosion."

This year, he said, they visited his wife’s family in California "because we didn’t want to be here." But, he added, "We’re really grateful to the community. Everybody came together really quickly to help us get through the disaster. We really appreciate what we have and, if I have the chance to help somebody else, I will."

Looking back, Nguyen was horrified at something else that had happened on Dec. 19, 2010. He said he and his wife had gone out at 2 p.m. to buy Christmas presents for their boys, without them seeing the purchases. So they left their sons alone in the house and returned in an hour.

"If the house had blown up then — with our children inside — we couldn’t have lived without them," said Nguyen. "Now, we never leave them alone; we don’t want to take any chances. And we tell them, if they smell anything, to run out of the house."

Although 14 months have passed since the explosion, the Brookfield community and its underground gas pipes are more than a half-century old. So, said Nguyen, "Everybody in the neighborhood’s very concerned. They don’t know what’ll happen next and who’s going to be the victim. Hopefully, it won’t happen again to this neighborhood."

As for his new house, he said, "We’re going all-electric now. My children and wife are very scared — they don’t want anything to do with gas."