LORAIN — A huge gas leak at Oberlin Avenue and 13th Street around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday forced two blocks of residents to evacuate.
Fire Lt. Ben Weber, a Lorain firefighter since 1997, called the leak the “biggest I’ve ever seen.” Roughly two dozen homes were affected, and all residents were allowed to return to their homes around 8 p.m., according to fire Capt. Todd Kieswetter.
Repairs were expected to continue through this morning and 12 Columbia Gas customers were expected to be without gas during the repairs, according to Ray Frank, a Columbia spokesman.
Workers from Monroeville-based Underground Utilities Inc. hit a “medium pressure” 10-inch steel pipeline with gas flowing at a pressure of 40 to 50 pounds per square inch. “In the worst-case scenario, you could have a fire or explosion,” Frank said.
Kieswetter said Columbia workers couldn’t “crimp” the pipeline as they normally do to repair leaks because the ruptured line was made of steel and crimping it could cause a fire. Workers had to stop the flow of gas and pressure immediately around the leak.
Workers were able to isolate the leak, avoiding having to shut down gas for the majority of Lorain’s Columbia customers, Kieswetter said.
Columbia has roughly 10,000 Lorain customers.
The leak, which lasted approximately 5 ½ hours, caused the evacuation of all homes from 12th Street and Oberlin Avenue to 14th Street and Oberlin Avenue, as well as a few homes on either side of Oberlin Avenue.
About 10 residents temporarily stayed at the Lorain Central Fire Station, 1350 Broadway. Becotek Manufacturing Co., 1305 Oberlin Ave., also was evacuated, and all roads around the area were closed.
Frank said anyone digging underground, from construction companies doing infrastructure repairs to homeowners installing mailboxes or poles for basketball hoops, is required to call the Ohio Utility Protection Service before digging. Ohio law requires calls to be made at least 48 hours before digging, according to the service website.
Frank didn’t have a damage estimate Tuesday but said Columbia would seek compensation. “That’s all part of the investigation that is now underway,” he said.
It was unclear Tuesday if Underground Utilities is insured for accidents like the gas leak. Lorain County Engineer Ken Carney hung up the phone when reached by The Chronicle-Telegram on Tuesday night and no one from Underground Utilities could be reached.
On March 1, the company was awarded a bid by the county to do road resurfacing and water line repairs and is being paid $4.74 million, according to a county document.
Federal taxpayers are paying 80 percent of the cost for the resurfacing, with Lorain taxpayers paying the remainder.
Lorain taxpayers are paying for all of the water line repairs.