August 1, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
72°F
test

Gas leak prompts evacuation


About 60 homes emptied for hours in Lorain 

LORAIN — Roughly 60 homes in a two-block area of Lorain were evacuated for three hours Tuesday afternoon after a 2-inch gas line was ruptured by contractors working on sewer upgrades along Oberlin Avenue, Lorain firefighters said.

The leak occurred at about 2:30 p.m. when equipment operated by city contractors bit into a 2-inch plastic gas line just beneath Oberlin Avenue, said Corey Timko, Lorain utilities director.

The 2-inch gas line was unmarked by Columbia Gas crews, so the contractors who were working on the sewer upgrades didn’t even know it was there, Timko said.

The 2-inch line ran directly beneath the intersection and was attached to a larger

10-inch line that ran beneath a nearby tree lawn; utility crews were eventually able to crimp the plastic 2-inch line and shut down the 10-inch line, Brown said.

However, a large volume of gas had already escaped from the ruptured line and flowed eastward before it was repaired, said Lorain Assistant Fire Chief Roy Cochran.

The gas spread and seeped into basements in nearby homes, prompting firefighters to evacuate homes between Oberlin and Hamilton avenues from West 17th to West 14th Street, Cochran said.

Firefighters tested the gas levels in many of the homes and found elevated readings in the basements, Cochran said, adding that the strong winds helped dissipate the gas but also pushed it into homes.

“The problem with the wind is it extends the odor greater distances,” Cochran said. “We had to extend the entire evacuation area.” 

“It was a very large leak,” Brown said. “Once you puncture that hole, it just gets bigger and bigger.”

Residents who had nowhere to go were provided temporary shelter at Admiral King High School on Ashland Avenue, but by 5:20 p.m. utility crews had already repaired the leak and residents were sent back to their homes.

The incident wasn’t without its finer challenges and a lesson in human nature.

Lorain County Emergency Management Director Tom Kelley said he activated the county’s emergency broadcast system shortly after Lorain firefighters alerted him to the evacuation.

Kelley’s recorded broadcast, which went out to local radio stations, warned residents in the two-block area of Lorain to begin evacuating. It mentioned Oberlin and Hamilton avenues and West 17th and West 14th streets.

Some residents, however, apparently misheard the warning, Kelley said.

A few Oberlin residents thought it applied to them — apparently mistaking the warning for Oberlin city rather than Oberlin Avenue — as did some residents in Elyria, who may have thought it was their 15th Street.

“It happens every time we do it,” Kelley said. “We must have gotten more than 60 calls; someone even (thought) it was all of Lorain and Lorain County.”

Kelley said a scrolling emergency message that was sent to local television stations advised viewers to tune in to their local radio station for information on the Lorain evacuation, and some people thought it was the entire city.

“We had a hundred phone calls from people asking us why we had to evacuate the entire city,” Brown said. “There was some confusion with the evacuation zone — some people thought it was the entire city.” 

Brown said the county’s Emergency Management Agency did exactly as it was requested and sent out the two-block parameters of the evacuation.

The mix-up prompted Kelley to call various Lorain County police departments and advise them of the situation. Police dispatchers at 911, Elyria and Lorain all said they fielded calls from residents worried about the evacuation.

Perhaps the date — 9/11 — didn’t help matters either, Kelley said.

“They couldn’t have picked a worse day to have a gas leak,” he said.

Contact Shawn Foucher at (440) 653-6255 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.