Gas line breaks in Morgan City this morning (updated)
Wed, 2013-10-23 08:39 Harlan Kirgan
Morgan City, La.
By JEAN L. KAESS
A main line gas rupture at Railroad Avenue and Grizzaffi Street early this morning — called “a freak accident,” by the mayor — led to the evacuation of Wyandotte Elementary School students and nearby businesses.
St. Mary Assistant Superintendent Keith Thibodeaux said students were evacuated to the parking lot of Circle K where five school buses picked them up and transported them to Morgan City Junior High School. Some students were being checked out from the junior high within an hour.
The rupture occurred while students were being dropped off for school around 7:40 a.m.
Marsha Bergeron, a third grade teacher who also serves on the administrative team at Wyandotte, said she and other teachers were on duty in the school hall by Railroad Avenue when she heard the rupture.
“It sounded like I don’t know what, a lot of air and a lot of loud noise,” Bergeron said.
An unidentified man came from Railroad Avenue and told them that natural gas was escaping, she said.
City Councilman Louis Tamporello said a contractor was working on Grizzaffi Street and “blew a plug.”
“You could hear it from the highway. It sounded like a high pressure line,” Tamporello said.
Morgan City Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi said SJB Group was the contractor repairing a gas valve on Myrtle Street. On Grizzaffi Street, the company was running a bypass so the city’s natural gas supply would not have to be shut off while the Myrtle Street repair was completed.
When the high pressure line failed this morning, the city shut off the 8-inch main gas line, affecting the entire city’s gas supply. However, gas already in the lines continued to supply homes, Grizzaffi said.
The city’s major companies limited their natural gas consumption during the outage, which conserved the existing supply of gas until repairs were made, the mayor said.
The city avoided what could have been a major issue, Grizzaffi said.
Assistant Fire Chief Mark Stephens said because of the gas leak, evacuations were ordered for nearby businesses, the school and nearby homes.
Among the evacuations were Morgan City Veterinary Clinic, Circle K, MC Paint and Body, Life Saving Equipment, Morgan City Restaurant Supply, Wyandotte Elementary, InterMoor, Oceaneering and Wyandotte Washateria, Police Chief Travis Crouch said.
Wyandotte Elementary classes were cancelled for the day.
Crouch said his department called on the assistance of the Berwick Police Department and St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Department to aid in evacuations. Police said they advised residents they saw that a voluntary evacuation was in effect for homes in Wyandotte Subdivision near the school.
Crouch offered praise to the school for its quick and orderly evacuation.
“I’ve got to give (Principal Barbara) LeLeux kudos. She had the kids and teachers in the best organized evacuation I’ve ever seen in 20-plus years. I was really impressed,” the chief said.
“The school system was fantastic today. Mr. Thibodeaux was here within 10 minutes, the school, the Central Office and the bus drivers. It went as well as a planned crisis drill,” Crouch said.
He added that his department left evacuations in place until they were sure the gas had dissipated from the area and the gas line would hold pressure. Streets were reopened at 9:45 a.m., two hours after the initial rupture was reported. Gas service was restored at that time, according to Crouch.
No injuries or fires related to the rupture were reported.
Within a few minutes of the gas line being reported as having ruptured near the railroad tracks, police were preparing to block off traffic on the roads in the area and making sure no trains came down the railroad tracks.
The school was evacuated within 10 minutes.
Additional reporting by Preston Gill and Zachary Fitzgerald.