Lawrence resident Toni Dudley knows the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale is always an adventure, but she didn’t quite realize what she was in for as she shopped for bargains Thursday morning inside Talbots.
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Dudley said, after firefighters came into the store and the odor of gas wafted through the air.
Several downtown businesses had to be evacuated shortly after 10 a.m. when Westar crews doing routine maintenance on Seventh Street in the alley between Massachusetts and Vermont struck a 2-inch gas line.
Emergency crews blocked off that entire section of Seventh Street to both pedestrian and vehicle traffic for about an hour Thursday morning. The road was reduced to one lane until about 2 p.m.
“We knew with the sidewalk sale that we had a large number of pedestrians in close proximity, so we called for extra crews for crowd control and to check all the structures to make sure the gas was all outside and had not traveled into the basements of some of the downtown buildings,” Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Division Chief Joe Hoelscher said.
Curt Floerchinger, Black Hills Energy spokesman, said 31 customers were without gas service for three to four hours following the gas line break. The incident happened just as employees of Local Burger were preparing for the lunch hour rush.
“It’s a little devastating on a very big day,” Local Burger owner Hilary Brown said. “We had a big special going, but we can’t cook a burger or fry. It seems like not a good day to do some big digging next to a gas line.”
Westar spokesman Nick Bundy said the crews were doing routine work replacing an electric pole in the alley behind Starbucks. He said the initial report was that the gas line may have been mismarked.