Gas leak forces evacuations, closes East Main Street

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Gas worker arrived to East Main Street about an hour after work crews supposedly ruptured a line at the River Pointe complex.

A gas line was ruptured by work crews Wednesday, forced the evacuation of buildings in and around the River Pointe apartment complex across from Riverhead Town Hall.

Emergency responders to the 2:30 p.m. incident shut East Main Street from Hubbard to Howell avenues as they awaited gas workers to tend to the busted line. Building “H” in the complex was the first to be evacuated — as the smell and sound of the hissing gas line could be heard nearby — with more buildings being emptied about 3:15 p.m.

Gas workers shut the gas main about 30 minutes later, and residents were able to return to their homes by about 4 p.m. as crews worked to repair the damaged line and restore gas, fire officials said. Town Hall was not evacuated.

Emergency responders and neighbors at the scene said a construction crew’s backhoe was to blame. The affected gas line runs behind building “H” in the apartment complex, located at 821 East Main Street. Theadora Cohen, who lives just west of the complex, and about 100 feet from where line broke, said she was alerted by police to vacate her home. Work crews cutting down a tree in the complex were responsible for rupturing the line, she added.

“They cut down a large tree and I guess they went in with the backhoe to pull out the stump when they hit the main,” Ms. Cohen said.

Lucille Stamile was walking home to Riverhead Pointe when she saw the commotion outside. She was concerned her son, a student at Aquebogue Elementary School, wouldn’t be able to make it home off the bus.

“I’m a single parent and I wasn’t ready for this,” she said with her daughter Hanna, 5, in tow.

Riverhead firefighter and department spokesman Bill Sanok said all the area residents were cooperative, which was greatly appreciated by the emergency workers.

“When the gas leaks, you don’t know if there’s accumulation,” Mr. Sanok said. “It’s better to take the extra precaution [and evacuate residents].”

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