New Castle News

November 9, 2013

Photos, Story: North Hill gas line rupture forces evacuations

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Contractors knocked on Billie Jean and Tom Cioffi’s door yesterday and said they were installing a gas meter.

“And then, boom,” Billie Jean Cioffi said, describing how the workers had broken a four-inch natural gas main in front of their house at 1907 Delaware Ave.

The break occurred around 9:20 a.m. when workers were digging under the sidewalk.

A Columbia Gas worker said a third-party contractor was installing a service line to a house.

A four-block area was closed to traffic and Sarah Perry, Columbia Gas communications specialist, said about a dozen homes in the 1900 block of Delaware Avenue were evacuated.

Some residents grabbed their children and dogs and ran out of their homes. Others left their pets behind.

The roaring sound of gas could be heard from more than a block away. Firetrucks, police cars and ambulances blocked off the area at intersections.

Sherri Libengood of 1911 Delaware Ave. held her barefoot, year-old son who was wearing nothing but a shirt and a diaper. Her 2-year-old daughter was in pajamas and barefoot. When firefighters knocked on Libengood’s door, she grabbed the children and quickly left, she said, leaving two dogs inside the house.

The Cioffis had hired a woman to do work at their house. She was being paid “and now she was thrown out too,” said Billie Jean Cioffi, who had joined a group of neighbors about a half-block away from the dig site.

Among them was Jeff Burns, who lives at 1911 Delaware Ave.

“We were in the house and we heard a big noise and it was spraying,” he said. “You could smell the gas. Now they’re warning people on the block.”

New Castle policeman Chris Fabian was standing watch from an intersection near the affected area.

“I know they evacuated both sides of Delaware between Hillcrest and Fairmont,” he said around 11 a.m. yesterday. “Now they are out with meters checking houses to determine the gas levels. They still didn’t shut it off yet. I’m two blocks away and I still hear it whistling. It’s a high-flow line for it to be whistling that fast.”

Perry confirmed that a contractor had hit a Columbia Gas Co. line on Delaware Avenue.

“At this time they are focused on keeping the situation safe,” she said.

Dean Masajada of 1905 Delaware Ave. said the gas company has had a contractor working in that neighborhood for the past couple of months.

“They were in front of our house with a Bobcat and they dug up the sidewalk,” he said. “All of a sudden we heard what sounded like a jet engine and my daughter saw one of the gas company guys running from house to house. I could barely hear the guy.”

Masajada and the four other members of his household left with their two dogs and waited in their car down the street. They left their two cats behind in the house.

“We’re still in our cars,” he said around 11:15 a.m.

The gas flow was shut off by noon, Fabian said, and people were allowed back in their homes.

Tentative repairs were made by 2 p.m., the worker said, and permanent repairs were expected to be done by 3 p.m. However, gas service was not expected to be turned on until last night.

(Email: dwachter