• Gas explosion destroys building in Millersville


    Lancaster Online

    By LARRY ALEXANDER and JENNIFER TODD
    Staff

    Officials said Millersville's main thoroughfare is expected to remain closed for much of Tuesday because of a natural gas explosion that rocked the borough Monday.

    Crews will begin work Tuesday morning to tear down The Framery Etc. building at 10 Manor Ave., according to Duane Hagelgans, commissioner of Blue Rock Fire Rescue.

    The blast, which was caused by workers who struck a main gas line, severely damaged the two-story building.

    No one was injured in the blast.

    The building, along with neighboring properties, had been evacuated about 90 minutes earlier. A dog was retrieved from the apartment above The Framery about 15 minutes before the structure blew apart, one official said.

    Fire units were dispatched at 11:53 a.m. after a construction crew drilling 3 to 4 feet underground to install a fiber optic line struck an 8-inch gas line near the intersection of North George Street and Manor Avenue, Hagelgans said.

    He said the line is the main feed into Millersville Borough.

    Firefighters immediately began evacuating about 100 homes and businesses in the area because of the strong smell of gas, Hagelgans said.

    "Normally, you get a whiff but this, this was enough to knock you over," he said. "It was intense. You could see gas coming out of one of the storm grates."

    Natural gas will follow the path of least resistance and can make its way into properties through sewer and water lines. Hagelgans said properties on both sides of the street showed high gas readings.

    Among the businesses evacuated were Manor Family Health Center, Millersville Mart, Penn Manor Beverage and Barn Door restaurant.

    "We knew it was bad and we were basically sitting here," waiting for UGI to get the gas shut off, Hagelgans said.

    Around 1:30 p.m., as he was standing in the parking lot of Millersville Mart about 250 feet from the blast site "the ground began to rumble," Hagelgans said.

    The explosion blew off the front of the building and toppled power lines. Piles of bricks and other debris blocked Manor Avenue after the explosion.

    "You have gas traveling into all these buildings and in that instance it found an ignition source," Hagelgans said. "It could've happened in any one of these places."

    Eden McMillan, 19, of 1 Manor St., was less than 150 feet away from the explosion.

    A full-time student at Millersville University, McMillan said she was at work when she got a call about the gas leak and that the area around her house was being evacuated. She hurried home to get her dog, a Blue Heeler, out of the house.

    When she arrived, she learned the dog had escaped when firefighters entered the home while evacuating residents.

    McMillan went looking for her dog and found it in Freedom Memorial Park, across Manor Avenue near John Herr Village Market.

    She returned to Manor Avenue, spoke with a firefighter, and had just turned to walk away when the explosion ripped the air.

    "There were no flames, just dust," she said. "And it was loud. Very loud."

    The firefighter grabbed her and they both ran along Manor Avenue, away from the explosion. McMillan saw other firefighters running as well.

    "There was debris flying everywhere," McMillan said. "It was crazy."

    McMillan said Monday afternoon that she had not been allowed back into her home but said firefighters told her the smell of gas inside was so strong that "you can't walk in without your eyes watering."

    Michael Fessler, a UGI spokesman, said late Monday that there were no longer any gas readings in any homes or businesses within an eight-block area of the explosion.

    He said UGI crews were working to repair the broken line. He said the work would likely be completed early Tuesday.

    Fessler maintained that the gas lines were "marked in the proper vicinity" and said workers from Allentown-based Focus Fiber Solutions failed to use "prudent excavation techniques."

    He said UGI is investigating the incident in coordination with the Public Utility Commission.

    Officials from Focus Fiber were not immediately available for comment Monday night.

    Monday's blast also left much of Millersville without electrical power, but PPL was given the go-ahead to begin restoring electricity to the area around 9:30 p.m., officials said.

    By 10 p.m., power to the area was back on and residents were allowed to return to their homes.

    Following the explosion, PPL spokesman John Levitski said, emergency management people in Millersville asked the power company to "dump the line."

    "So, at their request, we opened the circuit breaker and cut power to 1,400 customers," Levitski said.

    Classes at Millersville University were not affected by the power outage, said college spokeswoman Janet Kacskos.

    She said that many of the college-owned houses and offices on North George Street and Cottage Avenue were without power.

    The college did send out an alert to students concerning the explosion and alerted them to detours and areas of the borough to avoid.

    Penn Manor High School lost power, said Superintendent Michael Leichliter, but "the students were safe."

    Eshleman Elementary School had electricity but students who walk home were kept at the school after dismissal and parents were asked to pick them up. Bus students were dismissed, although Leichliter said they most likely arrived home later than usual.

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