Gas leak prompts evacuation of Elgin neighborhood
By Dave Gathman firstname.lastname@example.org September 24, 2013 11:20AM
Oscar and Melina Rosa wait with their children, Vince and Mia, and their dog outside the former Christian Science church Tuesday after a gas leak in front of a neighbor's house led Elgin police to evacuate them to the church parking lot. | Dave Gathman~Sun-Times
Updated: October 26, 2013 6:25AM
ELGIN — After a natural gas leak forced the evacuation of about a dozen near-west-side homes and closed part of West Highland Avenue to traffic for about three hours Tuesday, U.S. Army veteran Oscar Rosa said it reminded him of Korea.
Rosa, 31, said he had been discharged from the Army and moved back to his hometown of Elgin just a month ago with his wife, Melina, and their two children, ages 5 and 2. They rented a recently rehabbed home along quiet North Worth Avenue, between Larkin and Highland avenues.
“I had just picked up our 5-year-old from school and was coming back to the house when I heard the rushing noise of leaking gas from where the city water department was working next door,” Rosa said. “Then a policeman came by and said we had to get out of there.
“It reminded us of when I had been deployed to Korea for two years, one year of that with my family,” Rosa said. “We were stationed just a little south of the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Every two or three months, we’d have an evacuation drill. We’d have to practice getting all civilians out of the area if the North Korean army ever invaded. We were ordered to keep two suitcases packed at all times.”
Battalion Chief Tim Michaels of the Elgin Fire Department said a city public works crew digging along Worth in the block between Larkin and Highland avenues struck a 2-inch plastic gas line at about 11 a.m.
No explosion or fire was reported, but firefighters and police evacuated the homes along Worth and DuBois Avenue, between Highland and Larkin, as a precaution. After the gas leak was stopped, firefighters went into as many homes as possible to check for the presence of natural gas, especially in basements.
Church lot refuge
The Rosa family and other families who had been at home walked to the parking lot of the nearby former Christian Science church building at Highland and Wing Park Boulevard. Some then were taken by a city bus to relatives’ homes. The Rosas sat on the church’s front steps with their half-Chihuahua, half-Jack Russell dog Lady, waiting for the evacuation order to be lifted, which occurred at about 1:45 p.m.
Oscar Rosa said the incident could be traced to what happened on Thursday of last week. He said a city water department crew came to install a new water meter at his neighbor’s home, but the aging service pipe leading to the home broke. So, he said, the workers turned off that water service and connected the Rosa home’s water system to the neighbors’ with a hose until a permanent repair could be done on Tuesday.
During the intervening four days, he said, a crew from the Joint Utility Locating and Excavating service (JULIE) located the various pipes in the neighbor’s yard and used colored spray paint to indicate where each underground pipe was. But as the city crew dug toward the neighbor’s water line with a backhoe, that apparently broke the gas main running down the block.
Highland Avenue was closed to traffic between Commonwealth Avenue and DuBois during the evacuation. Worth Avenue remained closed to through traffic between Larkin and Highland as a gas company crew worked there at about 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Michaels said Nicor workers fix such a leak by digging two new holes down to the gas main, one 100 feet upstream from the leak and the other 100 feet downstream. Then they pinch off gas flow through the plastic pipe, which is quite flexible, by squeezing the pipe shut at both points with a pressure fitting. Finally, they dig down to the leak point and fix the broken pipe there.
The incident comes just a month after a contractor working on a sewer-separation and street repaving project broke a gas main a half-mile away, at Shuler and Van streets. That leak caused police to evacuate all students and staff from nearby Abbott Middle School, walking them to Larkin High School for the rest of that school day.
Tuesday’s leak also was just about two blocks from where a gas leak caused a house on North DuBois to blow up during the 1980s, peeling off one side of the building until it looked like a life-sized doll’s house.