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Porter Ranch gas leak: Advocates say important information isn't reaching Korean-speaking residents

This photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 shows a neighborhood in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles where residents have moved out because of a natural gas leak from a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility located in the mountains in the background. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over a massive natural-gas leak that has been spewing methane and other gases into a Los Angeles neighborhood for months, sickening residents and forcing thousands to evacuate. (AP Photo/Brian Melley)
Brian Melley/AP
Homes in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles, where residents have moved out because of a natural gas leak from a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility located in the mountains in the background. The neighborhood has a large Asian American population, including many Korean immigrants. Some complain that Korean speakers there aren't receiving important information in their language.

Porter Ranch is best known lately as the site of a gas well leak that's affected thousands of residents, making people sick and forcing many of them to temporarily relocate.

It's also known as home to a large Asian American community, with a population that's roughly a quarter Asian.

Many are Korean immigrants, some of whom speak Korean as their first language. Lately, some say Korean speakers there aren't getting all the up-to-date information they need because of a language barrier.

“I still get calls, people asking me, ‘what do I do about relocation?’" said Kim, a first-generation Korean immigrant who has lived in Porter Ranch for 30 years. "We are getting information way too late.”

Kim is bilingual, which has made him sort of a de-facto information clearinghouse for Korean-speaking families who call him with questions. He thinks a lack of multilingual outreach has left some non-English speakers behind on important issues like relocation assistance, which the gas company began offering several weeks ago.

Kim says most of the communication he's seen from the gas company has been in English.

"At the bottom of the letter is says ‘for Korean, visit www.this...' " Kim said. "That doesn’t work. Especially for first generation immigrant families."

Local City Council member Mitch Englander said better outreach is needed.

“This is one of the heaviest population Korean communities, in L.A., and all materials should include Korean translation," he said. "An effort needs to made beyond what they have been doing."

Englander said weekly gas company pamphlets sent to residents — with information about relocation, air filtration options and other updates — were in English only until very recently; he said they were only recently translated into Korean.

Gas company spokesman Raul Gordillo said efforts are being made to reach non-English-speaking customers in the area. The gas company recently set up a local customer resource center that has Korean, Spanish and Armenian speaking staff available, he said. Customers can also sign up for email updates in different languages.

They can also find translated information on a dedicated company website with updates on the gas leak, he said.

"If you go to 'Need Assistance,' on the right-hand side, you'll see a few links there," Gordillo explained.

But to get there, one has to navigate to the "need assistance" tab on an English-language home page. There are no immediate plans to change the website, Gordillo said.

Englander said he's asked that the website be made bilingual. His office is organizing an information session for Korean speakers with the gas company to be held later this month.