Local News

Gas leak prompts evacuations in downtown Raleigh

Posted May 19, 2010 10:09 a.m. EDT
Updated May 19, 2010 6:58 p.m. EDT

— Police closed downtown Raleigh streets for several hours Wednesday and asked about 160 people to evacuate several buildings because of an underground gas leak at South Wilmington Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Streets reopened and people were allowed back inside the affected buildings shortly before 2 p.m.

Raleigh Fire Division Chief Frank Warner said danger associated with the leak had passed. Repair crews continued to work on the ruptured 4-inch gas line underneath Wilmington Street.

A contractor drilling for a cable line struck the line around 9 a.m., authorities said, and the leak was capped at 11:06 a.m., PSNC spokeswoman Angie Townsend said.

Hazardous materials teams were sent out to monitor the spread. Underground leaks, in particular, Warner explained, can spread unpredictably, so a large evacuation was required.

"The concern is, obviously, explosion," Warner said. "This has a tendency to migrate throughout in different directions in underground channels. It moves through the sewer system, electrical vaults, phone vaults, things of that nature, any underground structures."

The gas vapors migrated north toward downtown, prompting police and firefighters to evacuate Shaw University Center and nearby buildings. Residents in the area did not have to leave their homes.

Shaw University asked all its employees to leave, and up to five dozen people were asked to evacuate the Progress Energy Center.

"One of the maintenance fellows came in and said, 'You have to leave the building.' So we got up and left. It wasn't frightening," said Deborah Nelson, an employee of the North Carolina Symphony.

Wednesday's gas leak is the third in the area in recent months.

On April 17, a gas leak caused by crews cleaning a sewage line prompted the evacuation of a Shaw University classroom building and 10 homes in a nearby neighborhood.

On Feb. 15, a construction crew hit a natural gas main, closing Martin Luther King Boulevard and Blount Street.