Rupture of a gas main slows life on York Road

Service is cut off to 22 homes, businesses

buildings evacuated

October 06, 2006|By Nick Shields | Nick Shields,sun reporter

A road that is normally bustling with traffic was shut down. An auto dealership's lot had plenty of cars, but just about no one there to buy them. And with the smell of natural gas hanging in the air, an office building was evacuated.

"I'm freaking out a little bit," said Jana Cowperthwaite, who was among the workers asked to leave the Prosperity Mortgage Corp. offices in Lutherville yesterday.

The disruption in the daily routine along York Road in Lutherville was caused by a rupture to a 6-inch gas main. A BGE contractor accidentally hit the line about 10 a.m., a spokeswoman for the utility said.

York Road was shut down from Seminary Avenue, just north of the Beltway, to Ridgely Road. About 38,000 vehicles a day travel in that area, a state highway spokesman said.

Drivers were steered toward Dulaney Valley Road or Interstate 83, as crews worked to patch the damage.

Gas was shut off to about 22 businesses and residences, said Linda Foy, the BGE spokeswoman.

A county Fire Department spokeswoman said gas vapors rose about 20 feet - or halfway to the electric lines above the street.

"With anything as flammable as natural gas, any source of an ignition is a concern," said the spokeswoman, Elise Armacost.

As Cowperthwaite, 26, returned from a lunch-break trip to a convenience store, she and her co-workers discovered five buildings were being evacuated, including theirs.

As they rushed up three flights of steps to their office to get their belongings, the smell of natural gas filled the open-air courtyard. Some managed before leaving to send e-mails to loan officers about the evacuation.

As the office door was locked, a Baltimore County firefighter yelled to the workers, warning them not to answer their cell phones. Answering the phone, he said, might spark an explosion.

A few minutes later, Tom Gwin, 86, a Lutherville resident of 40 years, cruised past a county police car, firetruck and orange cones in the three-wheeled motorized bike he uses to get around.

Gwin said he lives six blocks away and did not smell the gas or know what was going on until authorities yelled for him to turn away. By that time, he was less than 75 feet from the break in the gas line.

But as Gwin prepared to take a four-block detour, a wind gust allowed him to finally sense the danger.

"I smell it now," he said of the natural gas.

At his BP gas station less than a block from the gas main break, Bob Honar looked at the deserted gas pumps. He said the closing of the road slowed the delivery of parts for repairs and cost the station about 150 gasoline customers.

"We lost a lot of money," he said.

Shortly before the afternoon rush hour, authorities reopened one lane in each direction. By early evening, the gas main was repaired and all lanes were reopened, officials said.

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