AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – Hundreds of students and workers were evacuated from the UMass Amherst campus after natural gas leaked out of a broken pipe Tuesday afternoon.
Berkshire Gas Company crews were able to stop the leak from the broken gas main; more than three hours after a contractor struck the line. Repairs to the pipe were finished around 6:30 p.m.
Gas crews tried twice to stop the leak on the spot, but after two tries, they had to shut it off from a valve further down campus.
About 200 people had been evacuated from the southwest portion of the UMass campus due to the gas leak. People were also being told to stay away from the area of the leak, which was located at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue.
Peter Chilton was evacuated off the campus. He said, “There wasn’t much information right away, but we were told to get out and we did that, and we kind of stayed in place once we felt like we were far enough away from it.”
When the all-clear siren sounded throughout campus at 5:30, people returned to the intersection that police had been blocking off.
David Gagne, a UMass Amherst student and worker, said, “We kind of came out and like headed to the other side of Southwest. The gas leak was right outside our building. We could smell it as soon as we walked outside.”
Chris Farrell of Berkshire Gas Company told 22News that the gas was leaking out of a 200-pound, 6 inch main line pipe. That’s a big pipe that services a lot of customers on campus, as well as Amherst residents.
22News arrived about 20 minutes after the leak started. Farrell said while the construction company Mass West was working, a heavy piece of equipment punctured the gas pipe. It took the gas company hours to try to move the heavy equipment from on top of the leak to even get to the gas main line.
Farrell also told 22News that Dig Safe did mark the area as safe, but clearly it wasn’t. He said Dig Safe is expected to investigate what went wrong after gas crews fix the main line and get gas back to everyone’s home.
22News spoke with workers on campus who were being evacuated around 1:40 Tuesday afternoon. They said, “The alarm went off but we’re used to hearing it all the time because they do the tests, and the alert system all the time. But then my supervisor got a call from his supervisor and he said its real; you guys got to get out of here so we just grabbed our stuff and ran.”
The first estimate had about 70 customers on campus and in neighboring areas without gas, but it could have been worse. If this were February, thousands of student’s would have been on campus and homes would be without heat.
“A total of 16 customers experienced service interruptions during the repair,” said Farrell. “Those services were shut off during the repair and efforts are now underway to restore service to those customers.”
By Wednesday morning, gas service had been fully restored across Amherst, Farrell said.
If you have any questions or concerns or need to contact Berkshire Gas, please call 1-800-292-5012 and a customer service representative will be happy to assist.