SALEM — Construction crews working on Route 28 in Salem accidentally struck a natural gas main Monday morning, causing a major leak and subsequent shutdown that affected hundreds of customers.
Salem Fire Chief Lawrence Best said about 335 customers connected to 165 gas meters were affected by the shutdown, which he said was necessary because it was a primary 6-inch gas main that was damaged.
“A wide part of town is out of gas,” Best said.
The outage affected schools and town hall facilities on Geremonty Drive, some senior assisted living facilities and the town senior center, and a number of businesses. It extended up through North Broadway, parts of South Broadway, Main Street and Sally Sweets Way.
“It was a large breach,” Best said.
Roy Sorenson, Salem’s director of municipal services, said the contractor operating the excavator that caused the breach did not appear to be at fault, according to Salem’s preliminary findings. He said the markings for the gas line may have been inaccurate.
Deputy Police Chief Joel Dolan said a detail officer at the work site first reported the accident at 9:10 a.m., and police quickly closed off Route 28 between Central Street and Main Street, which remained closed for about 2 hours and 20 minutes.
The leak was contained by about 11:30 a.m. Nobody was injured, but first responders had to evacuate about four or five houses in the area.
By Monday afternoon, there remained only one lane open in the affected area of Route 28 as crews worked to repair the main and restore services.
Repairs were expected to be completed by 6 p.m., after which Unitil crews were expected to flush the lines and individually restore gas to each affected customer over the following 8 to 12 hours.
Unitil spokesman Alec O’Meara said there were about 16 technicians working on this issue, and that they would be making door-to-door visits to make sure customers were back up and running.
“Critical facilities are going to be restored first,” Best said, explaining that workers would begin with getting the three affected assisted living facilities back online.
He said there was talk about possibly creating a cold weather shelter.
At 11 a.m., the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated, which allowed the fire, police and public works departments to communicate and coordinate safety and restoration efforts.
“Our emergency plan worked really well,” Best said.
In the meantime, officials are asking residents to check on any ill or elderly neighbors to see if they need assistance, and to contact police if there is any concern.
Best also cautioned residents to follow safety guidelines when using any alternative heating sources in their homes.