Gas leak halts activities

A worker accidentally ruptured a gas pipe on the corner of 21st and H streets Saturday afternoon, forcing the evacuation of students, employees, shoppers and guests from University buildings and disrupting campus events.

The eruption caused the evacuation of the Marvin Center, Lisner Auditorium, Tower Records, Crawford and Lafayette halls, The Schenley and the Quad. Workers from Washington Gas, which owns the pipe, capped the leak in less than an hour.

No injuries were reported, said Bob Ludwig, associate director of Media Relations.

Workers from Strong Company Inc., contracted by Verizon ?, accidentally hit a two-inch wide plastic, natural gas line with the teeth of a backhoe while digging trenches on 21st Street at noon Saturday.

The workers were installing phone lines for the new School of Media and Public Affairs building, said Ike Barns, foreman on the site for Strong Company. Built-up pressure inside the pipe caused it gas to explode out after the pipe was struck, and Washington Gas was called to plug the leak, Barns said.

The natural gas line was not directly connected to local buildings but was hooked up to a main line nearby, said Tim Sargeant, corporate spokesperson for Washington Gas.

The main line was not damaged and the leak was capped at 12:36 p.m., Sargeant said.

All buildings reopened and returned to normal schedules around 1:30 p.m., Ludwig said.

Evacuation of the various buildings between I and G streets and 20th to 22nd streets caused problems for students and faculty holding events and meetings.

Kidsfest, a Volunteer Week event, was moved from the Hippodrome in the middle of a magic show. Seven children, about 50 volunteers and three Hippodrome employees were at the event, said sophomore Jennifer Acker, who was working in the Hippodrome at the time of the evacuation.

About 20 members of the Generic Theater Company were preparing sets for their upcoming play in the Downstage Lisner. A man ran into the downstage area, told the students to evacuate and to pull the fire alarm, said junior Frannie Rosenberg, director of the group’s upcoming musical, Cabaret.

(The evacuation) sets us back technically, she said.

The Civil Environmental Engineering department, which was holding an all-faculty workshop on the third floor of the Marvin Center, was also forced to abandon its event.

When the group first heard the fire alarms go off nobody moved, Sheffield said. It was not until three to four minutes later when a Marvin Center staff member came into the room and told the group to evacuate that they left, Sheffield said.

Sargeant and Ludwig said the University and the construction company took proper precautions and brought the situation under control quickly and appropriately.

Sargeant said people in the area were evacuated to help remove any ignition source.

In order to have an explosion and subsequent fire from a natural gas leak, the gas must reach a certain concentration in a confined area, have available oxygen and an ignition, Sargeant said.

Having the leak outside where it was able to vent safely into the atmosphere lessened the threat of explosion, Sargeant said.

Some students said recent increases in the amount of false fire alarms in campus buildings have made them apathetic to the alarms.

Sophomore Schenley resident Laura Souede said it seemed like most students on her floor did not leave when the alarm went off.

Jonathan Heinlein, an American University sophomore, was visiting Souede when the alarm went off and said the importance of the fire alarm was neglected.

It disappointed me that too many people thought it was a joke and didn’t evacuate, he said.

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