The east half of Elyria Swansea has been a mess this weekend.
Dozens of intersections are closed off as Xcel Energy workers dig into asphalt to replace thousands of feet of gas lines in the neighborhood. Residents have been without gas service since Wednesday, when the company shut off service due to a pipe issue that caused the gas line to be flooded.
“It’s been hard. We’ve got to boil our own water just to shower with warm water,” Jose Ramirez, who is 15, told us on Saturday.
He was waiting in line at a taco truck that Xcel arranged to give out free food at Lorraine Granado Community Park. Hollie Velasquez Horvath, a spokesperson for the utility, said as many as 400 people who couldn’t cook at home have come out for a hot meal each day. She told us 700 customers were affected since Wednesday, though some service has been restored.
“We had the water pipeline and the gas pipeline rubbing together, and it caused corrosion and water then started coming into the gas pipeline, which is very dangerous,” she said on Saturday.
That meant the company needed to cut service for everyone.
“It took us a few days to figure out where the water source came from and then to purge everything out, and now we’re in the midst of repairs,” she said. They decided to go big on those repairs, which means customers have to wait a little longer: “What we’ve done is take advantage of the situation a little bit, and repaired some of the other old, aging pipes in the neighborhood so that we’ve got a really good, clean system that will be reliable and resilient for our customers.”
Velasquez Horvath added everyone should have gas restored by Sunday night.
The outage arrived as the neighborhood dealt with all kinds of external pressures.
Construction crews are nothing new in Elyria Swansea. Just a few blocks from Xcel’s crews, workers Saturday continued to work on the I-70 expansion project, which has rattled the neighborhood for years. The National Western Stock Show campus is also going through a huge redevelopment on the neighborhood’s western edge, and officials are trying to convince voters right now to spend hundreds of millions to complete their vision.
This week, the numerous road closures and detours added another element of chaos to neighborhood streets.
Yadira Sanchez, whose home still didn’t have gas on Saturday, said she could smell and taste gas in the air a few days ago. She told us about a recent conversation with a distraught neighbor.
“She was screaming and crying,” she said. She recalled her friend’s words: “This is BS! Something has to be done! Our lives are already impacted because of the construction. We have reroutes everywhere and now I can’t even shower to go to work?”
At the park, where people were in line to pick up free tacos, Xcel staffers handed out fact sheets to help people navigate the difficult moment. Among the offerings were vouchers for showers at the Downtown Denver YMCA and a rec center in Commerce City.
“I was like, oh yeah, great. Let’s go pay parking to take a shower,” she scoffed.
Sanchez was still wrapping her head around everything when we spoke. She said the outage, plus everything else going on here, gave her anxiety about the neighborhood’s future. Especially since housing prices have grown here, as they have all over the city, she worries she might soon be pushed out of Denver altogether.
“I am going to be homeless,” she said. “This is going to continue to escalate to the point that my family and I, we’re not going to have a home.”
Other residents took the outage with less panic. Ramirez, for instance, said he didn’t mind boiling water to shower so much.
Marcus Chaney, who was also waiting for free tacos, said the last few days have been “pretty rough,” but his biggest complaint was that he couldn’t get anyone at Xcel to give him directions to the park. It’s listed with a different name on Google Maps, and the Xcel customer service rep he who took his call was based in Wisconsin and couldn’t offer much help.
Christina Palacios grew up in Elyria Swansea and said the neighborhood has improved in her 27 years living here. The outage hasn’t been too big a deal for now, she recently impulse-bought an air fryer, which took care of hot meals. But she was waiting for hot water to return so she could finally give her four-year-old a bath.
Still, Palacios said she knows her neighbors have been struggling with noise and rumblings from I-70 construction and the work trucks that routinely lumber down the streets. Every now and then, CDOT’s crews hit a power line and knock out electricity for everyone who lives nearby.
If Xcel delivers on their timeline, and gets gas running again by Sunday, she’ll be OK.
“It would be a bigger deal if it would go on (for longer),” she said. “That’s when I would feel it.”
This article has been updated to reflect that service has been restored to some of the 700 affected customers as of Saturday.