ANDOVER — A gyser shot about 20 feet into the air from a high-pressure natural gas main for nearly four hours yesterday after a construction crew installing a sewer line on River Road accidentally struck the plastic pipe, officials said yesterday.
As a result, four homes located at the intersection of River Road and Cross Street were evacuated, roads in the area were shut down, electricity was turned off to nearly 700 customers, gas service was temporarily halted to 260 more customers, and school buses had to be re-routed.
Among the customers to lose power was the Wood Hill Middle and High Plain Elementary schools on High Plain Road. Among the 260 customers who lost gas service were the 121 apartments at Avalon Andover, an apartment complex near the Tewksbury line.
Columbia Gas crews attempting to fix the pipe were thwarted in their efforts to stop the leak because they were unable to turn off a valve that controlled the flow of gas in the area, according to several officials at the scene.
A spokeswoman for the gas company said the valve had been erroneously paved over and was inaccessible from the street.
As the gas continued to spew into the air, people living farther away from the scene began to complain of the odor of gas in their homes as well. Fire officials went house to house at one point, testing the air quality of the homes as some people were afraid to re-enter their dwellings.
The leak was finally shut off after gas company crews used a device to crimp the plastic pipe, stemming the flow of gas, at 4:22 p.m. The leak was first reported at 12:30 p.m. by a firefighter on scene who was directing traffic as part of a private detail, according to Fire Chief Mike Mansfield.
Columbia Gas spokeswoman Andrea Luppi said the problem was caused when a contractor excavating a trench for a sewer line hit the pipe.