April 23, 2009
SUNY Cortland gas main leak prompts evacuation
Moffett Center, Sperry Hall evacuated after worker punctures gas pipe while digging
Two SUNY Cortland buildings were evacuated for over an hour Wednesday after construction workers broke a natural gas line outside Moffett Center.
A campus-wide alert signaling the gas leak was broadcast around noon via cell phones, e-mail and a loudspeaker announcement. Assistant SUNY Cortland University Police Chief Mark DePaull said the campus alert system had been given a regular test an hour earlier.
Moffett Center and Sperry Hall academic buildings were evacuated as Cortland city firefighters and a New York State Electric & Gas Co. crew worked to repair the leak. University Police blocked and taped off the perimeter around the buildings.
Students and staff were allowed to return to the buildings by 1:40 p.m. Five classes in Moffett Center were canceled because of the evacuation, said Dr. Dan Driscoll, a math professor. Driscoll had been teaching a math class in Moffett when the gas leak occurred.
A construction crew from Vitale Inc., based out of Auburn, was digging behind Moffett Center to install wiring for light posts as part of renovation to the building.
Construction crew Foreman Rob Thurston said a backhoe made a small puncture in the 2-inch gas main that runs to a generator inside Moffett Center.
Thurston said the size of the hole was as if it were punctured through by a pen.
Paul Grier, a NYSEG gas construction supervisor who was at the scene Wednesday, said the wind blew a small amount of gas into Moffett Center and Sperry Hall, both of which had to be aired out. Most of the gas leaked outside and the NYSEG crew repaired and replaced the pipe without much difficulty, he said.
Firefighters said the amount of gas inside the buildings was minimal, but an evacuation was still necessary.
Firefighters said the crew knew where the gas main was located. The backhoe was used to unearth a rock and during the process the gas main was punctured, firefighters said.
University Police Chief Steven Dangler said he was unsure how many people were evacuated from inside the buildings.
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