Gas leak triggers evacuations on Stanford Avenue

A gas line that ruptured under Stanford Avenue at West Lakeshore Drive sparked a fire at a lift station Monday morning, temporarily closing nearby roads and forcing the evacuation of nearby residences along University Lakes, said Curt Monte, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Fire Department.

A construction crew working on a sewer lift station at Stanford and West Lakeshore around 10:30 a.m. Monday hit the 2-inch natural gas line, Monte said.

No one was hurt in the explosion and firefighters were able to douse the fire at the lift station.

Traffic was reopened late Monday on LSU Avenue between Highland Road and West Lakeshore after road repairs were completed.

Entergy was still repairing the damaged line late Monday afternoon, but is restoring service to the two residences that lost gas service due to the leak, said Will Johnson, a customer service representative for the utility company.

For about three hours, a 500-foot perimeter was set up around the scene, barring all but emergency personnel.

Police blocked all traffic along Stanford from South Lakeshore Drive to Yale Avenue, diverting cars and joggers alike.

Occasional wisps of gas could still be smelled in the air late Monday morning near the scene, which is across the lake from LSU, and the Fire Department’s hazardous materials unit took air quality readings.

By early afternoon, though, with the ruptured gas line finally shut off, the perimeter was removed, he said.

Monte said the workers hit the gas line near the lift station, but the rupture occurred a few feet way, underneath the roadway, causing buckling in the road. The gas then leaked out and when it came near the contractor’s hot equipment, it sparked a fire to the wooden lift station building, Monte said.

David Guillory, director of the city-parish’s Department of Public Works, said Layne contractors was in the midst of rebuilding the pump station that caught fire. Before the accident, there was six more weeks of work left, but Guillory said he’s not sure how long it will take to complete.

He said his office will investigate. He said it’s not clear yet if the gas line was marked, but even marked lines can be tricky to locate.

“You don’t know how deep they are at times. Sometimes they may not be where you think they are,” he said.

Guillory said the contractor may have some liability depending on what’s determined.

“If he had hit it differently, it could have been bad,” he said. “People could have died.”

Paul Welsh, a Baton Rouge resident, had just gotten on his kayak on University Lake, where he was joined by two of his children and his nephew, when they noticed something was wrong.

“We were about 1,000 yards away and we just saw a plume of smoke,” Welsh said. “We saw all these emergency vehicles speeding along Sorority Row. Must be serious if they are speeding down that road.”