Gas-line rupture reroutes motorists


Published: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

A damaged natural gas line on Newberry Road in front of The Oaks Mall closed Newberry Road and Interstate 75 exit ramps for more than five hours Thursday, forcing motorists to find alternate routes.

A consultant, subcontracted to the Florida Department of Transportation, accidentally drilled into the top of a 6-inch steel gas line while working in the eastbound lanes at 6600 Newberry Road, Gainesville Regional Utilities and the transportation department reported. The damage occurred shortly before noon. The combustible gas began leaking out, forcing the road's closure from the Interstate 75 overpass to NW 62nd Street throughout the afternoon and early evening.

Westbound lanes on Newberry Road reopened at about 5:30 p.m., just as many people were trying to head home from work. But eastbound lanes and exit ramps at the I-75 overpass remained closed until 6:40 p.m., and one eastbound lane remained closed after that.

Seven restaurants and a home in the area lost gas service, said GRU spokesman Dan Jesse.

Repairs were expected to be finished and gas service back up by this morning , he said.

The size of the gas line and efforts to first isolate the damaged line and then reduce the dangerous levels of gas in the area delayed repairs for hours after the leak started. It took until after 3:30 p.m. to shut down all lines feeding gas to the spot. Crews then had to wait longer while the gas, which had built up in the area, including in sewers, dissipated and they could safely begin work.

Officers and firefighters spent the afternoon diverting traffic from the road, notifying nearby businesses and monitoring the gas levels in the air.

No one was injured due to the leak, said Alachua County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Megan Crandall.

But some businesses along the stretch of roadway were evacuated, including Don Pablo's. Others shut down early because too few customers were able to get to their buildings.

By about 4:30 p.m., only about five people had entered Birkenstock Footwear, said employees Sarah Smith and Emily Payne. Normally the store receives about 25 to 40 customers.

"We were just wondering what was going on," said Nathan Cash, an employee at McAlister's Deli east of the mall. When few customers showed up for lunch, Cash ended up leaving work early only to learn about the gas leak.

The Oaks Mall remained open but shoppers had to arrive via entrances on the eastern and southern sides of the shopping center.

Others, like Dunnellon resident Janice Foglia, had to figure out how to get out of the mall. She arrived by Newberry Road, before it was closed, and like others, needed directions on leaving the mall via NW 62nd Street.

North Florida Regional Medical Center remained open, although ambulances at one point in the afternoon were being rerouted, hospital and emergency officials reported.

O2B Kids off of Newberry Road asked parents to call about directions on picking up their children.

Denny Player, 67, of Gainesville made two failed tries to retrieve his cocker spaniel Prince from PETCO, west of the mall, where the dog had been dropped off in the morning.

"I couldn't get through," he said about the road blocks manned by officers.

Player ended up driving from Tower Road to SW 20th Avenue and up NW 62nd Street to get to The Oaks Mall. He parked nearby and then walked to PETCO and picked up Prince just before 5 p.m.

When the line was damaged, Williams Earth Sciences out of Jacksonville, the consultant working for the transportation department, had been checking a depression reported in the roadway, said DOT spokeswoman Gina Busscher. Information provided by the crew indicated they had followed procedures to check for underground lines and pipes, but the gas line had not been marked, she said.

People and businesses contact an 800 number about the site where they want to dig. Utility companies then have to locate and mark the areas where lines are located.

Jesse said GRU was going through their records to verify that the gas line had been properly marked at the site before digging began and on their maps.

"We will be checking the marks against the records," he said.

Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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