SALEM, N.H. — Gas company employees are going door to door Monday night to restore service to the 335 gas customers who were affected by a Monday morning gas leak.
An independent contractor working for the town struck a main gas line because it was not marked correctly, Municipal Services Director Roy Sorenson said.
South Broadway was closed between Main and Central streets after a construction crew hit the gas line while working in front of Drive Fitness, Police Deputy Chief Joel Dolan reported at about 9:30 a.m. The leak forced gas service to be shut off for 335 customers north of the Copper Door on Main Street.
The road was completely shut down for about two hours. Salem firefighters, police, municipal services workers and Unitil gas company worked the scene and drivers were advised to seek an alternate route.
"In this instance we were doing drainage work on a culvert. From the information we have currently from out in the field we believe there was an error perhaps in the location mark-out, and no fault of the contractor at the time," Sorenson said.
The gas main was on the side of the road, instead of being in the middle of the road as marked, he said.
Officials held a press conference at 4 P.M. to update residents on when the leak would be fully repaired, which was expected to be about 6 p.m. Manual restoration would take eight to 12 hours from that time, they said.
"We are having the meters get shut off and repairs are occurring at roughly the same time," Unitil spokesman Alec O'Meara said.
Affected areas included customers on Geremonty Drive, Main Street, North Broadway, Sally Sweets Way and South Broadway. Among those without gas were schools, the fire station headquarters, Town Hall and the senior center.
Many commercial businesses were in the affected area, so crews will be around through the morning to ensure businesses can start with the natural gas working, O'Mera said. Notes will be left for each customer to call and have a crew restore power, he said.
"Thankfully, the weather today is rather warm for a mid-January day, as hundreds of residents are without heat," Deputy Police Chief Joel Dolan said in a statement before the press conference. "However, the cold still poses a concern for many, and we encourage everyone to check in on those who are ill or elderly and may need assistance."
As of Monday night there were no plans to open a heating shelter because of the temperature and the time of restoration, however anyone experiencing heating issues should call the Fire Department, Fire Chief Larry Best said.
Officials were alerted to the gas leak because a police officer was overseeing the work, Dolan said. After news of the leak, town officials opened up the Emergency Operations Center at the Main Street fire station Monday to open up communication with all of the municipal departments involved, Best explained.
Unitil said in its statement earlier in the day that gas service was cut off at about 11:30 a.m. "in order to make the area safe and begin repairs."
Unitil technicians went door-to-door to make sure all affected meters were turned off, according to the company.
People were urged to call the company's emergency line if they smelled gas in their home or business.
"Residents are urged to evacuate if they smell gas," Best said. "If you think you may have a leak, do not try to turn off your gas service yourself and do not turn on any electric devices. Call for help, and wait for a professional to respond to your home."
Additional gas service technicians were brought in from Unitil's Maine and Massachusetts operations. Sixteen technicians were working through the night, O'Meara said.
Natural gas leaks are usually recognized by smell, sight or sound.
Unitil warned residents not to use a lighter or telephones, switch on/off appliances, light fixtures or even a flashlight in any area where gas is detected, as those items could spark a fire.