Gas Leak Causes Evacuation of Downtown Columbia Businesses

Related Story

COLUMBIA - The heavy smell of natural gas poured into downtown Tuesday afternoon, prompting police to close off a section of Ninth Street. The Columbia Fire Department arrived around five after several Starbucks customers reported a gas odor. 

"When they originally responded, it was reported that some folks at Starbucks weren't feeling well but nobody was treated or transported from the scene," Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief James Weaver said. 

Upon their arrival, fire fighters discovered that construction crews struck a natural gas line in the lot behind Chipotle. Crews from Ameren EU arrived on the scene and reported that a two inch gas line was damaged, requiring shutting down three different valves. 

"It happens occassionally when crews are digging to put in water lines or move things. Occassionally, they hit something," Weaver said. "Even after they come out and mark the ground and do all the measurements; sometimes they find things unexpectedly."

Police evacuated customers and employees from Chipotle and Cold Stone Creamery. Chipotle was back in business an hour later, but employees said they had to spend about 25 minutes re-cooking the food. 

"Natural gas is good because it goes into the atmosphere," Weaver said. "It's lighter than air, so it wants to go up, so it doesn't hang around down on the ground like some other gases do. So, from a safety standpoint, it's better if it's natural gas than something else."

Signs of a natural gas leak include a rotten egg odor, a hissing sound, or dust coming out of a hole in the ground. According to Weaver, locals should shut off any electrical devices, refrain from smoking and evacuate the area. 

No damage estimate has been released.