It was supposed to be a weekend of celebration for Nelson Alvarado, the head of the low-rider club that organizes cruises down 24th Street on Sundays.
Alvarado and his partner, Tina Villarreal, are about to have their third child and their friends and family planned to throw a baby shower on Saturday.
But the couple are among the dozens who lost their homes in the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion last week. They spent the weekend in a hotel — and their friends have quickly shifted gears from welcoming the new baby to collecting cash and essentials for the family that lost nearly everything in the blast.
Alvarado, who grew up in the Mission, had just gotten off work on Thursday when he got a call that his house was on fire. He rushed toward home, but was stopped by fire trucks and police.
A wall of flames 30 feet high had engulfed his neighborhood.
“I thought it was just our house. But it was everything,” Alvarado said.
Eleven members of Alvarado and Villarreal’s extended family shared the roomy, three-story home that the couple bought three years ago. “We wanted a place where the family could be together,” said Villarreal.
Only two members of the family were home when the blast occurred – Alvarado’s brother and an elderly family member. Both escaped as windows shattered and the house erupted into flames. The younger man suffered burns.
Despite losing the house, the family has been counting its blessings since the fire. Just five minutes before the pipeline blew, Alvarado’s mother, sister and her two children left the house after putting the finishing touches on the baby shower preparations.
“Material possessions can always be replaced, but our lives are the most valued and precious gift we have,” said Villarreal, resting her hand on a very round belly that’s home – but not for much longer – to a baby boy they plan to name Elijah.
With the baby due in less than a month, the family is in dire need of place to live – over the weekend, they learned their house had been “red-tagged” which means it is in the group most severely damaged by the explosion. Only the sooty, crumbling facade of their home remains.
PG&E put the Alvarados in a hotel for the weekend and gave them some cash. Safeway donated food vouchers and the Red Cross has helped. But the family’s fate is uncertain beyond Monday, when they and other victims will meet with the gas company.
“I hope PG&E takes responsibility for what has happened and compensate all of us and help us find a home,” said Villarreal, who said she was never told her home sat on top of a major gas pipeline.
On Sunday afternoon at La Raza Park, the couple’s friends in the San Francisco chapter of the Inspirations Car Club held the first of what they expect will be many fund raisers and collection drives.
Before their afternoon cruise, club members sold candy, nachos and drinks, donating the proceeds from to the Alvarado family.
Friends from Inspirations and other car clubs unloaded clothes, baby gifts and other donations from their low-riders.
Rosendo Guardado, vice president of the SF chapter of Inspirations, wants the community to remember that families like the Alvarados will need support over the coming months. “Right now people will remember. In two weeks no one will,” he said.
Guardado has spearheaded the efforts to help the family, and said fundraisers and collection drives are planned for Mexican Independence Day and upcoming Bay Area car shows, including one in Newark on September 25.
“What would it be like if you had to go through this by yourself? As bad as it is, it would be twice as hard,” said Guardado.
How to help:
-Donate cash to the Alvarado family via Bank of America account number 0123175307
-Get information on upcoming events, as well as shoe and clothing sizes for the Alvarado family’s children at Inspirations Car Club’s Facebook page.
- The City of San Bruno, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army are accepting donations and organizing blood drives for all those affected by the explosion.