A major gas leak in central Dunedin - which could have been
''catastrophic'' - prompted the evacuation of people from
shops and businesses yesterday morning.
Contractors digging at a construction site in Albion Lane
ruptured a reticulated gas main about 8.45am.
All buildings in the block bordered by Albion Lane, George
St, St Andrew St and Great King St were evacuated for more
than two hours.
Willowbank Senior Station Officer Craig Geddes, the officer
in charge of the incident, said any spark or ignition could
have caused an explosion.
''It certainly had the potential to be catastrophic and
that's why we had to evacuate the area,'' he said.
''The gas line was ruptured completely so there was a fair
bit of gas.''
Liquefied petroleum gas (lpg), which is heavier than air,
spread under the floor level of the Harvest Court Mall and
accumulated at the lowest point - a room containing
electrical wiring and equipment.
Willowbank and St Kilda firefighters were guided by Nova
Energy staff, who used gas detectors to identify the
concentration of gas and isolate it.
''The Nova guys were fantastic.
''They shut down the main supply from George St and then it
was just a matter of us dispersing it.
''We set up a fan to push the gas into the open air so it
dispersed at safe levels,'' Mr Geddes said.
Gas readings were taken every 15 minutes and the cordon was
lifted after 11am.
A small cordon around a switchboard remained for a couple of
hours to allow monitoring, Mr Geddes said.
''We take any incident like this very seriously.''
The disruption was just a part of being a business owner,
McDonald's franchisee Justin Stonelake said.
His George St restaurant was among the many businesses
evacuated and closed.
Mr Stonelake said Monday mornings were not typically busy and
the loss in business was a ''minimum disruption''.
''It could have been a lot worse, and thankfully, all our
staff and customers are safe and well,'' he said.
John Clearwater Contracting staff who struck the gas line
were working on a development being managed by Arrow
International on behalf of the property owner.
Arrow International southern strategic development manager
Stephen Cairns apologised for the inconvenience and said the
company's insurance agents would deal with any claims.
Mr Cairns said workers had the appropriate site plans and
were briefed on the job, and it was not clear whether the gas
pipe was ruptured as a result of human error or if the pipe
was not located as shown in plans.
''Unfortunately, accidents do happen,'' he said.