YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A gas leak in downtown Youngstown forced several buildings to evacuate Wednesday morning.
It happened right in the middle of the morning rush as motorists were trying to get through Youngstown’s Central Square. Driver were detoured around the Mahoning County Courthouse.
A gas line between the county administration building and the courthouse broke around 8 a.m., forcing the evacuations and nearby road closures.
“The safety of our people is foremost. We evacuated everyone with the help of the deputies,” said Mahoning County Purchasing Director Jim Fortunato.
Workers with Murphy Construction were looking for underground utility lines as part of a project to repair a tunnel connecting the courthouse basement with what was originally the county jail when they hit a gas line.
“They were here doing more work to determine how to correct the water situation, and there was a gas line they inadvertently hit that was approximately eight inches from the surface,” Fortunato said. “They never anticipated a gas line that close to the surface.”
Fortunato says gas lines are typically buried much deeper to avoid being affected by the winter freeze and thaw cycle.
“There aren’t blueprints that we’ve been able to find to identify what is underground, such as the drain, the utilities and so forth,” Fortunato said.
As a precaution, the Mahoning County Courthouse and Trinity United Methodist Church were evacuated around 8:30 a.m. People were allowed back inside the buildings about an hour-and-a-half later.
Repairs to the gas line took much longer, further pushing back work on the tunnel, which was closed earlier this year out of fear it would collapse.
“It caused a delay with the structural engineer on how we can move forward with the project. We want the project done before winter,” Fortunato said.
Repairs to the gas line were still happening as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.