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A natural gas leak that has been pouring methane gas into the air in Los Angeles for nearly four months is now temporarily plugged. The leak happened at a natural gas storage facility Owned by Southern California Gas Company. It has forced thousands of people in the Porter Ranch neighborhood from their homes. NPR's Nathan Rott has the latest.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: For months, this shopping center in Porter Ranch has been hugely important to the people here. Sandwiched between an optometry center and a blow dry bar is a little community center storefront where people like Louis Stepter have come for everything from updates about the gas leak to air scrubbers for their homes. It hasn't been easy for Stepter. He's been relocated in Burbank, a half hour's drive away, for two of those months. He left when his wife starting getting sick.
LOUIS STEPTER: She had rashes and eye problems and all kinds of stuff that was happening to her that we didn't - we just assumed - we just had to know it was coming from the gas leak.
ROTT: The gas company and health officials, or their part, say that there's no immediate health concerns to people here, but they helped relocate thousands of them all the same. Now that the well has been plugged, some of those people can start thinking about coming home. It won't be immediate. The gas company says it will be several days until the cement pouring at the base of the well is done and it's permanently sealed. It will be days after that until air quality tests have been done and the homes have been deemed safe to return to. It can't happen soon enough for Stepter.
STEPTER: I'm ready to come back. I'm tired of the hotel.
ROTT: Getting people back in their homes is only a step for Southern California Gas Company. California Senator Barbara Boxer has called for a federal review, and in a press conference across the street from the shopping center earlier today, she said that they need to answer some basic questions.
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BARBARA BOXER: Why this leak occurred, why it has taken so long to provide this community with the relief it needed. How do we know this facility will not leak again? And before they go back in their homes, I told this wonderful community of people I want to stand with them. They shouldn't go back until they feel comfortable.
ROTT: Paula Cracium, president of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, says getting some of those answers would go a long way towards making the community feel whole again. Right now, she says, the community feels like it has a stain on it.
PAULA CRACIUM: It affects jobs and small businesses and property values and just the overall mood and spirit of the community. And so there's a lot of work we're going to have to do to clean off that stain.
ROTT: And that, she says, won't happen overnight. Nathan Rott, NPR News, Porter Ranch, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.