New Castle News

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May 1, 2013

Gas line rupture: Police say ‘massive’ school evacuation went smoothly

NEW CASTLE — It was a scene reminiscent of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

About 700 children left the George Washington Intermediate Elementary School and marched eight blocks to the Park Avenue tennis courts Tuesday morning after workers hit a gas line. The exodus, which included the teachers, was led by school resource officer Justin Crum of the New Castle police department.

“It was an orderly evacuation,” said Stanley Magusiak, acting superintendent of the New Castle School District.

“It was massive,” said David Joseph, New Castle’s assistant fire chief. “I was responding to the call and had to wait while wave after wave of children came down the street. I couldn’t make the turn to get to the school. But I’ll have to say, the children were very orderly.”

The city’s police and fire departments were notified at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday that an unmarked gas line had been hit as a trench was being dug and gas could be smelled inside the building.

Columbia Gas Co. and Verizon workers were also at the school, which houses children in grades four, five and six.

As the building and sewer lines were checked for possible dangerous gas buildup, Magusiak contemplated what the students would do for the remainder of the day.

Ultimately an alert was issued notifying parents that — until 12:30 p.m. — they could pick up their children at the tennis courts at Park Avenue and Mercer Street and take them home. At that point, the remaining children were taken by bus to the junior-senior high school where they were ushered to the auditorium to be excused at the end of the school day.

Magusiak noted many parents work during the day and picking up their children was not an option.

Over the weekend, Magusiak explained, work was being done on a cell phone tower at the school. The tower has been in place for five or six years.

The gas line involved feeds the generator for the cell tower, he added.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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