About a dozen people escape Soulard business seconds before gas explosions

Feb 5th, 2014 | By Mark | Category: Natural Gas Explosions

NatGas Consulting

Laclede Gas workers dig to find the shutoff valve for a gas line ruptured by utility workers after an explosion ST. LOUIS • About a dozen people narrowly escaped a natural gas explosion Wednesday afternoon at a Soulard clothing design firm, authorities say.

Nobody was injured but “it was, and still is, a very serious situation,” said St. Louis Fire Capt. Garon Mosby.

A construction crew was installing fiber optic cable for the Stars Design Group in a three-story building at the corner of Shenandoah Avenue and Menard Street in Soulard when they hit a gas line after 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to Jordan Dial, a foreman for Four Winds construction company. The South Dakota-based company was working for AT&T.

Workers smelled gas and called 911, Dial said. Dial said none of his workers was hurt; he said everyone inside the building got out safely before the explosion. Workers alerted people inside the business of the leak.

Firefighters responded the business at 2222 Menard Street and tested the gas levels in the air.

“Our meter was going crazy,” Mosby said.

Firefighters then immediately ordered everyone out.

“It was pretty much a life-and-death order,” Mosby said.

Bret Schnitker, 50, who owns the business, said after the crew struck the gas line, his 11 employees went to a rear building.

“Thirty seconds after leaving, there were two or three major explosions,” Schnitker said.

Katie Sharp, 27, of St. Louis, a merchandiser for the firm, said she was distraught by the explosions.

“When everything happened and the building exploded, I cried,” Sharp said. “We are still in shock. Thank God everybody got out in time. Had it not been for the fire department to come in and tell everyone to get out, things would have ended differently.”

Azem Dullovi, 29, of St. Louis, a maintenance worker for the business, said he was holding open a metal gate while the construction workers dug outside. He said the explosion threw him several feet, knocking him over and hurting his back. More than an hour later, he said he was still suffering irritation in his throat, nose and mouth from the fire and smoke.

“I could have been dead,” he said.

Laclede Gas Co tweeted that crews responded immediately after the explosion and cut gas service to a large area around the intersection. Mosby said electricity has been cut to the 2200 block of Menard Street and rear-facing homes on the adjacent alleys as firefighters and Laclede crews investigate.

Mosby said firefighters had to force their way into some buildings on the block to make sure no one else was inside. Gas service had been turned off to 22 buildings nearby buildings. It was not clear when electricity and gas service would be restored.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the fire was contained but still burning inside the business because Laclede was still working to shut off the gas line to that building, Mosby said. Residents would not be allowed into their homes until the leak was sealed and the block deemed safe. Meanwhile, a bus was idling nearby to allow residents to warm up.

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One Comment to “About a dozen people escape Soulard business seconds before gas explosions”

  1. Alister Wm Macintyre says:

    That is a familiar story.
    • Gas lines should be clearly marked, in such a way that they do not get covered up by snow and ice in bad winter weather.
    • Construction crews should be trained to recognize the markings.
    • The company, which owns the lines, should be notified, in advance, of any construction in proximity to their lines, so that they can verify the safety.

    News stories, after these events, rarely clarify elements of the above bullet points. The stories are reported as if this was an unavoidable accident.

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