New Castle News

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November 8, 2013

Evacuated residents describe gas leak scene

NEW CASTLE — Gas company contractors knocked on Billie Jean and Tom Cioffi’s door Friday morning and said they were installing a meter.

“And then, boom,” Billie Jean Cioffi said, describing how the workers had ruptured a four-inch natural gas main in front of their house at 1907 Delaware Ave. around 9:20 a.m.

She said the workers had been digging right in front of the house.

A four-block area was blocked to traffic and homes in the 1900 block of Delaware Avenue were evacuated, according to Sara Perry, Columbia Gas communications specialist.

Some residents grabbed their children and dogs and ran, while others left their pets behind.

The rushing 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 her pajamas and barefoot. When firefighters knocked on Libengood’s door, she said, she grabbed the children and quickly left, leaving her two dogs inside the house.

The Cioffis had hired a woman to do some 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. Friday. “Now they are out with meters checking houses to determine the gas levels. They still didn’t it shut 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. She said about a dozen houses were evacuated, and first-responders and gas company crews worked initially to evacuate homes and ensure people’s safety.

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

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, the four other members of his household and their two dogs left 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.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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