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Laurent Street project area evacuated after gas pipe struck

By BY JJ VELASQUEZ
July 16, 2010 at 2:16 a.m.

Firefighters stand in the evacuated area on the 3600 of North Laurent Street, where construction equipment struck a natural gas pipeline. The area was blocked off to avoid potential fire hazards.

LAURENT STREET PROJECTThe current phase of the Laurent Street construction project is set to be complete in March 2011.

A shopping center was evacuated Friday after construction equipment struck a natural gas pipeline in the Laurent Street construction project area.

No injuries were reported in the incident that occurred in the 3600 block of North Laurent Street.

Victoria Fire Department Chief Vance Riley said natural gas leaks can permeate the air and cause difficulty breathing, but in this case, safety measures were taken in case of a fire, he said.

"You need to evacuate a safe distance from any natural gas leak," Riley said.

The incident marked the second time in three weeks an area was evacuated because of a natural gas leak. On June 26, four homes were evacuated after a public works lawnmower struck a pipeline.

In this case, since excavation took place, the contracting company, Total Site, Inc., was required by state law to call 811, a service that coordinates with utility companies to locate lines underground.

"At this point, I don't know if that was done in this case," said Alicia Dixon, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy, which owns the gas pipeline.

The energy company is investigating the matter and will find out whether the contracting company made that call, she said.

The gas was shut off at the scene, and the leak was stopped within 30 minutes.

"No one lost any service, and right now, we're just in the process of making permanent repairs," she said.

Jimmy Roach, the city's deputy director of public works, said the line was in a shallow location, within 12 inches under the ground.

"We normally don't have utilities that shallow," Roach said.

Jaime Zamora works for a company that blasts water underground to reveal utility lines before people dig into them. His company, Badger Daylighting, was not contacted to perform the so-called hydro-excavation.

He said that many of Victoria's pipelines are not mapped out well, so contacting Badger Daylighting, which is the only hydro-excavation company in town, would have been a good idea.

In the worst-case scenario, a blowout could have happened, he said, which could have killed or injured people.

"Why people don't take the precautionary measures, I don't know," he said.

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