Punctured gas line scrambles university

Becky Campbell • Jul 25, 2013 at 12:11 PM

It took about an hour for gas company workers to send an “all-clear” signal after a backhoe operator punctured a gas line near the athletic center at East Tennessee State University.

It was an hour student Lauren Stephens, of Nashville, didn’t have time to spare.

“I have an audition in 10 minutes at Blue Moon,” Stephens said as she sat with two classmates on a picnic table near Lunceford Apartments. “I’m trying to get a ride. I got here right after it happened,” she said.

Unfortunately for Stephens and dozens of other students, the parking areas on the Center for Physical Activity end of campus were barricaded until workers got the gas shut off.

Gabby Wexler, of Jonesborough, said she was in class in Warf-Pickel Hall when the fire alarm sounded.

“We evacuated Warf-Pickel and once we got outside and it was clear we were told to go back inside,” she said.

But after students returned to their respective classes, the building was evacuated again, she said. At that point, students were allowed to leave, she said.

But instead of being able to leave campus, Stephens, Wexler and Kathryn Patterson, of Maryville, were stuck waiting to get permission to get into their cars and leave.

ETSU issued a gold alert informing students and staff about the situation and to avoid the area affected, according to Joe Smith, ETSU director of University Relations.

“We have several projects taking place this summer on campus and one of those projects is an expansion of our Center for Physical Activity,” Smith said.

“A construction worker there at that site inadvertently struck a gas line there. ... Once that happened we immediately evacuated the CPA and another building close by. Within moments after that, we decided to evacuate the other buildings around there just as a safety precaution.”

Smith said Atmos Energy and the Johnson City Fire Department responded as well as ETSU Public Safety. Gas company workers were able to get the leak capped quickly, he said.

Approximately six buildings were evacuated, including the CPA, Warf-Pickel Hall, Lunceford Apartments, Lucille Clement Hall and Lyle House, Smith said.

“We’re in summer school now, but we have a lot of camps going on here right now.”

No one was injured during the incident, Smith said. After the “all clear” was given, students, faculty and staff were allowed to return to the affected buildings.

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