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Damaged gas line closes south side section of Salem

Emergency personnel keep people away from the South Ellsworth Avenue railroad crossing Tuesday after the construction excavator seen just south of the tracks struck an underground natural gas main. Salem Fire received the call at 10:36 a.m. and by 3:30 p.m., the all clear was sounded for nearby residents who were sheltering in place. Some businesses in the general area, such as Quaker City Castings and Simmons Feed, shut down as Columbia Gas of Ohio made repairs. Train traffic was also suspended for several hours. A contractor working on the Snyder Road sewer line project for the city hit the gas line. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

SALEM — No injuries occurred, but a handful of businesses shut down, trains stopped and some residents sheltered in place for several hours Tuesday after construction workers struck a gas main on South Ellsworth Avenue near the tracks.

“We appreciate the cooperation of the fire department and the residents of the area as we made the situation safe and continue to make repairs,” Columbia Gas of Ohio Communications and Community Relations Manager Bill Loomer said.

The incident occurred when an excavator digging on the south side of the railroad tracks along South Ellsworth Avenue for the Snyder Road sewer line extension project hit the 10-inch natural gas main, causing a release of natural gas.

The Salem Fire Department received the call at 10:36 a.m. that the gas line had been struck. Salem Fire Capt. Jeff Olinger said the immediate area was isolated and an evacuation perimeter was set up. Quaker City Castings, located at the corner of South Broadway and Euclid, was evacuated and Simmons Feed along Snyder Road was shut down as a precaution. A few other businesses in close proximity were also shut down.

Columbia Gas of Ohio was notified to respond and Norfolk Southern was contacted to shut down all train traffic on the two sets of tracks due to the close proximity to the leak.

Columbia Gas of Ohio personnel work south of the tracks on South Ellsworth to pinch off the flow of gas in the area where a 10-inch natural gas main was damaged so repairs could be made. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

According to Olinger, no residents were asked to evacuate based on the readings for the gas level, but some were asked to shelter in place with their doors and windows shut in an area which included East Perry, East Euclid, Cherry and Cedar streets, South Lundy and a section of South Lincoln. A map was posted on the fire and police department social media pages showing the affected area.

The Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency was contacted and activated the Wireless Emergency Notification System known as WENS in an effort to notify residents within a half mile radius, sending an emergency alert to 120 registered users to shelter in place. EMA Deputy Director Brian Rutledge said they had a unique situation when they sent out the all clear message to suspend sheltering in place, noting that in those few hours they gained eight more registered users.

As a precautionary measure in case a residential evacuation became necessary, Rutledge said EMA Director Peggy Clark had the American Red Cross emergency response team and the Salvation Army with its food canteen on standby with a plan to move residents to an area park.

Olinger said the contractor left the bucket from the excavator on top of the leak, so the gas release was spread out instead of going straight up. He said Columbia Gas of Ohio personnel commenced digging in three spots on each side of the break to isolate and pinch off the flow of gas so the break could be fixed.

The fire report said firefighters accessed fire hydrants on either side of the tracks to protect the Columbia Gas crew and any exposure in case of fire. The ladder truck had been sent to Quaker City Castings due to the strong odor of gas in the plant with positive readings.

Loomer explained that by pinching off the flow of gas to that area, gas service could remain in the rest of the area. The only exception was a handful of businesses closest to the damaged line who were without service.

He also said the train traffic had to be stopped because “any passing train could cause a spark.” During a break like this one, he said they try to contain any possible source of ignition. Once the leak was contained and the situation made safe, the shelter in place order could be lifted and crews could remain on-site to fix the damaged line.

South Ellsworth Avenue was already closed for the sewer line project and was remaining closed from Mullins to Snyder for the gas line repairs.

In a press release sent out at the beginning, Loomer said customers may smell an odor of natural gas for some time due to the hit main, but added “if a customer thinks the odor is coming from their residence or immediate vicinity, they should leave the area immediately, move to a safe location and call 911 and Columbia Gas of Ohio at 1-800-344-4077.”

Salem Police Chief J.T. Panezott said his department provided traffic control and assisted the fire department in clearing the area. He was also in contact with the EMA and Clark in preparations for an evacuation if it became necessary. Panezott said his officers talked to residents in the area closest to the scene, telling them what was going on and that it might be a good idea to go out of the area.

Salem Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart said he was notified about the incident by the fire department. Marucci & Gaffney Excavating is the general contractor for the Snyder Road sewer line project, which is extending a line from Newgarden Avenue down to Snyder Road. The project is expected to be completed by December.

Weingart said he didn’t think the gas line break would delay the project.

He couldn’t say for sure if the gas line had been marked or if the contractor got too close or whether the line was marked but wasn’t where it was supposed to be.

Damascus and Perry Township fire departments provided mutual aid to assist with metering of the area and to cover the station in case of other calls. The Stark County Fire Department Rehab Unit also responded. Salem fire called in all shifts to respond.

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