SHAMOKIN — Contractors working on a water line replacement project ruptured a natural gas line in the city Thursday morning, spurring an emergency evacuation and causing as many as 3,200 customers to temporarily lose electric service.
The leak occurred after 9:30 a.m. when contractors with Fairchild Brothers Inc. ruptured the 4-inch UGI Utilities line while digging a trench at Eighth and Church streets as part of a project for Aqua Pennsylvania's Roaring Creek Division.
The pungent smell added to the odorless natural gas quickly spread through the immediate area as emergency responders from the Shamokin Fire Bureau, AREA Services Ambulance and city police and code office arrived on scene.
Firefighters evacuated residences on two blocks of Eighth Street, between Lincoln and Arch streets, along with homes on nearby side streets, according to Fire Chief Jason Zimmerman. Joe Swope, media relations representative for UGI Utilities, said 33 homes were evacuated.
Students, faculty and staff at nearby Shamokin Area Elementary Annex evacuated and were transported to the main elementary building on Coal Township's west end.
More than 3,200 customers were without electric service when an emergency shutoff was necessitated by the gas leak.
“Our protocol is to eliminate any possible ignition source,” Swope said.
City Hall and the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center, both about one block away in either direction, each were without power. City staff remained on scene as some residents were taken to City Hall.
Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Rogers said the gas line measures at 4 inches. The leak slowed but remained active at noon, he said. Crews from PPL Electric and UGI Central Penn Gas worked at the scene.
The electric company isolated the outages over time, dropping affected customers down to 448 at 12:15 p.m. and 227 at 2:15 p.m. before eventually returning service in full by 3:15 p.m.
City Administrator Bob Slaby said the emergency evacuation, as well as emergency traffic restrictions, were lifted between 2:15 and 3:15 p.m. However, contractors continued work at the scene.
“There were no readings in any of the homes,” Swope said of testing for natural gas.
Gas was cut off from the line, which was under repair. Swope expected gas service to be restored to customers by Thursday night. Property access is needed for UGI workers to reintroduce gas and light appliances, he said.
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