By Nathan Baker
Nearly two dozen homes were evacuated Wednesday morning after an Elizabethton work crew punctured a high-pressure natural gas line while digging for utility work in front of a home at 512 N. Main St.
Elizabethton Fire Department Sgt. Andy Wetzel said some of the underground utilities were marked in preparation for the crew’s work, but apparently the 2-inch gas line was overlooked.
When they started digging, the bucket of their backhoe tore through the pressurized piping, releasing flammable gas throughout the surrounding neighborhood.
Thirty minutes after the rupture, the hiss of escaping gas could still be heard from the cordoned-off hole, and the odor of natural gas could be detected from the Zoomers convenience store on Broad Street.
Wetzel said homes within 400 meters of the break were evacuated as a precaution, and their occupants were offered refuge at a nearby strip mall to stay out of the brisk spring weather.
Homeowner Candice Short, who moved to Main Street this week from Piney Flats, stood with Tom Short and Retha Hoss in the strip mall’s parking lot, observing the work to secure the damaged line and drinking their morning coffee.
“I was working downstairs and I heard something that sounded like a release of high pressure,” Tom Short said. “That’s about when they came to our door and said we had to get out.”