By John Toole
---- — SALEM — A gas leak disrupted the evening commute yesterday around Interstate 93 Exit 2 and service to 126 Unitil customers.
It also caused some anxious moments for staff and parents picking up children at The Learning Path daycare nearby.
Fire Chief Kevin Breen said firefighters responded shortly after 2 p.m. for the gas leak that closed Pelham Road to through traffic.
Rick Russell, head of the town’s pubic works department, said his crews were called out to put up roadblocks and detour signs.
Some highway ramps at the interchange were shut, but I-93 remained open. Nearly four hours later, the Department of Transportation announced the off-ramp had reopened.
But Salem police, at the same time, advised traffic was very heavy and urged motorists to avoid the area if possible.
Breen said a construction backhoe struck a 6-inch gas line west of the highway, causing the gas leak.
There were no explosions or injuries, the chief said.
Firefighters had to wait for the gas company, Unitil, to respond to deal with the problem. That caused the road to be closed for more than three hours.
Unitil spokesman Carol Valianti said crews were on site before 4 p.m. and in the process of shutting off lines.
“Then they have to repair the leaks,” she said. “It will go into the evening.”
Salem police reported the leak had been capped just after 5:30 p.m., but repairs still had to be made.
The neighborhood is a commercial area, so there weren’t homeowners to cause concern. The fire department was fielding calls from people worried about the odor of gas in the vicinity The Learning Path.
“People are safe if they stay indoors,” Breen said around 3 p.m.
Windham firefighters responded and had been directed to the daycare center.
Owner Donna Hajjar said The Learning Path, on Keewaydin Drive, has 55 students, from newborns to special needs teenagers.
Officials at the scene restricted traffic for safety reasons and buses were rerouted, she said.
Hajjar acknowledged the gas leak had created anxious moments for the business, but parents, kids and staff were coping.
“We have an amazing group of parents and the kids are safe,” she said. “Our staff is doing well.”
The business has evacuation plans for just such an occasion, but didn’t need to implement them.
“We haven’t had to evacuate,” Hajjar said.
Fire officials also worked with New Hampshire State Police during the incident.