Gas leak causes road closures, evacuations

Posted May 8, 2013 at 12:35 pm

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PHOTO: The Monticello Fire Department responds to a gas leak along Amber Road/X-44 on Wednesday, May 1. The road was closed off for several days and residents were evacuated for safety precautions. (Photos by Kim Brooks)

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PHOTO: The LP gas leak along Amber Road caused road closures and residents to be evacuated until the pipeline company, Kinder Morgan, could arrive from Minnesota. Some crew members were stalled due to winter weather conditions in the north.


By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

An LP gas leak outside of Monticello along Amber Road/X-44 could have been much worse. Local farmer Jim Manternach was out doing fieldwork Wednesday afternoon, May 1, when he accidentally hit a fence surrounding some pipeline equipment, causing gas to leak into the air.

The Monticello Fire Department was called to the scene at about 3:15 p.m., according to Fire Chief Mark Stoneking. He said their main objective was to stop traffic along the roads (X-44 and 170th Street).

“Between us and the Sheriff’s Department, we set up a perimeter so traffic couldn’t get through,” said Stoneking. He said he contacted the pipeline company, Kinder-Morgan. It took about an hour for their first crew members to get on scene.

The MFD and Sheriff’s Department officials then evacuated several homes in the area for safety precautions, those closest to the vicinity of the leak. Power was also shut off to avoid a possible spark or fire.

“Some of the residents weren’t even home,” said Stoneking, “which worked out pretty well.”

Stoneking said once the pipeline crews were on scene, they extended the evacuation perimeter than what was initially set.

The MFD remained on scene from Wednesday afternoon through 11:30 p.m. Friday night, along with the Sheriff’s Office. Stoneking said some roads were still blocked off, so they manned the barricades to keep people from crossing.

“Our main objective was to keep the scene safe,” Stoneking said.

No injuries were reported, which Stoneking said was a blessing. “It could have been much worse.”

The MFD worked in shifts throughout the two-and-a-half day period to keep things under control as crews from Kinder-Morgan worked to cap the leak.

“I honestly didn’t think it would go on as long as it did,” admitted Stoneking.

Residents were finally able to return to their homes by midday on Friday, May 3. On Friday morning, 170th Street was opened, and X-44 opened to traffic on Sunday.

With snow in the upper Midwest, weather conditions actually delayed some crew members who were needed to pump nitrogen into the pipeline to clear out the LP.

Stoneking said the MFD is trained to handle something like a major gas leak.

“Hats off to the pipeline companies in Iowa who hold continuing education classes for something like this,” expressed Stoneking.

He said these companies are very safety conscience and have classes year-round for law enforcement and fire departments.

Aside from the MFD and Sheriff’s Department, Brenda Leonard with Jones County Emergency Management, was also on scene throughout the ordeal. JCEM was able to purchase a mobile unit through a Homeland Security grant. This camper provides officials with a dry, warm place to work while on scene. Leonard said it has a desk area for making conference calls, radios, white boards, hook-ups for laptop computers, restrooms and more.

“It provides resources for the manpower out here,” explained Leonard. “I make sure they have what they need.”

JCEM also provides food and drinks for all those involved as well.

By late Friday afternoon, Leonard was still on scene.

About a dozen or so residents were evacuated Wednesday afternoon. They were able to return to their homes by mid-morning on Friday.

Sue and Andy Ballou not only live along X-44, but also run a business in that area, Recycled Products. Sue said the day of the gas leak, they were contacted by county law enforcement, urging them to evacuate for safety reasons.

Everyone left the area for the evening.

“It was not a big imposition for us,” said Sue.

Their power was also shut off to the home and business for quite a while. Sue said she didn’t know exactly how long the power was going to be off, so she contacted Alliant Energy to notify them that they had a business to run. Their power was then restored by about 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 2.

Sue said they told their employees not to rush into work Thursday morning until power was back on.

The Ballous were offered a hotel room for the night, but Sue said they were fine staying in their home.

“The good thing for us was that the wind was blowing south,” she said. “It could have been much worse. We stuck it out.”

She said throughout the whole ordeal, Kinder-Morgan kept in great contact with them to keep them updated. The utility companies also stayed in touch, making sure their services were in working order.

Ballou commented that Kinder-Morgan offered to pay for any loss of business Recycled Products may have incurred.

Chris and Brenda Omar and their children also live along X-44. Chris said he was driving over the hill to their home when he saw what happened. They live in the house closest to the gas leak on the west side of the road.

The Omar family was also offered hotel accommodations, but chose to stay in town with Brenda’s mother. By about 9 a.m. Friday morning, they received a call that it was safe to return home, and that their power would be on soon.

“All of the companies were really good in communicating with us,” expressed Chris.

On Wednesday, the weather was in the 70s. By Thursday, the Omars knew it was going to be quite a bit cooler. When they evacuated, they were not able to grab clothes or toiletries, so they had to run to buy warm clothes for the kids to wear to school the next couple of days.

When they returned home Friday, they had to go through their fridge and freezer to throw out spoiled food.

Chris said he was told by the pipeline company to keep track of any receipts for items they had to purchase.

Like the Ballous, the Omars said the wind direction helped keep their property and pets safe from the gas leak.

“Our kids were a little worried about our animals,” said Chris. “I was told directly that our pets would be okay.”

The Omars expressed their thanks to the first responders, MFD and Sheriff’s Department for keeping their home safe. “They’ve been out here all night patrolling and keeping things safe,” said Chris.

Charlie and Donita Hageman, whose home is on X-44, were in Cedar Rapids when they received a call from the grandson of Jim Manternach, informing them of the accident.

“Our first thought was whether anyone was hurt or injured,” expressed Charlie.

They arrived back in Monticello around 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Charlie said they tried to find a route to get to their home, but were told to evacuate. All they had with them at the time were the clothes on their backs and a sweatshirt Charlie threw in his truck.

They were given a room at a local hotel for the night, and then headed to the Davenport area to see and stay with family until they could return home Friday morning. Charlie said they ran into other neighbors buying toiletries and incidentals in town.

“Everyone was really good about keeping us updated,” said Charlie.

When they came home, like the Omars, they started going through items in their fridge, throwing away spoiled food.

“This whole incident makes you think about the things you take for granted,” said Charlie. He said they didn’t have a comb or hair brush on them. They had to purchase necessities such as a toothbrushes and toothpaste.