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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Gas leak at McNally’s causes evacuation, but no serious damage

The gas leak occurred in the afternoon on April 12. Photo by Reina Shahi.
The gas leak occurred in the afternoon on April 12. Photo by Reina Shahi.

On Thursday, April 12, the usually peaceful Fifth Avenue and Main Street were hurriedly evacuated due to a gas leak at McNally’s Foods. The Pioneer Alert system quickly notified the campus of the potential danger. An “all clear” message was sent out shortly after. Rumors of a car crash also circulated following the incident. According to Fire Department Chief Dan Sicard, the gas leak was caused by a delivery truck crashing into McNally’s.

“The truck had two people in it — it was a delivery truck going to McNally’s and it appears one of the drivers had a medical issue that caused them to crash into the corner of the building. It took out a big piece of the corner and tore the gas meter out of the ground, and that’s what the leak came from,” Sicard explained. “The gas pipe was big enough that you could hear the gas leaking, it sounds like a jet engine as it’s leaving the pipe.”

The Police and Fire Departments promptly responded and arrived at the scene to evacuate the area, assisted by Midwest Ambulance and Alliant Energy. According to Sicard, about 40 or 50 people were evacuated from the East side of Main street and the North side of Fifth Avenue. Plans were also under way to evacuate larger areas of the city, but the gas leak was capped quickly enough that such measures were unnecessary.

Although the emergency was handled smoothly by GPD and the Fire Department in less than half an hour, it had the potential to become quite dangerous. 

“With natural gas, we need it to get up to 5 percent in the air to be explosive, so it has to be pocketed somewhere,” Sicard said. “The problem for us was [that] the truck was right on top of the gas main, and the gentleman was still stuck in the truck, so that area inside the truck was our greatest hazard.” 

Natural gas floating freely in the air, though, can pose other hazards as well.

“The other places you worry about are downwind, if that gas finds a building that has a pocket … and it starts to collect, … it can get up to a point where it can be explosive,” Sicard said. “There are examples of gas leaks smaller than this. Like down in Kansas City, they had a gas leak that the gas company was working on and half a block away enough gas had escaped and collected in that area and it exploded and killed people.”

McNally’s owner Randy Smith said that no one in the store had heard the crash, but an electrician and volunteer firefighter who happened to be there at the time got the call and evacuated everyone from the store 

“[The volunteer firefighter] got a call — he ran out to his truck, thinking that he was going to respond to a fire or whatever, … and came running back into the store with his equipment on,” Smith said. 

Overall, Smith described the leak as a minor inconvenience that only caused about an hour of disruption for his business. Fortunately, there were no additional injuries, everyone remained calm and things quickly returned to normal. In the end, according to Smith, it was “just a little bit of excitement I guess, to punctuate our day.”

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