Construction workers ruptured a natural gas line Friday afternoon in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, forcing the evacuation of the Crossroads Mall and several bus-i-nesses.
The 1:30 p.m. break not only saturated the downtown area with the stifling odor of escaping natural gas, but emitted an overpoweringly loud drone that persisted for more than an hour.Employees and patrons of the Temple Square Hotel, Utah Woolen Mills, the Beneficial Life Tower office complex and the Gateway Plaza West were evacuated. Although not required, security officers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked some visitors to the Temple Square grounds to leave.
No injuries were reported.
"We narrowly escaped disaster," said Mike Stever, Salt Lake City's emergency program manager.
"This is was a disaster of inconvenience more than anything," Stever said, referring to the hundreds of employees and shoppers who were evacuated. "I don't think people realize why we do this. But if we are going to make any mistake, it is going to be on the side of public safety."
Questar spokesman Darren Shepherd said the rupture occurred at 57 W. South Temple after crews doing work on light rail accidentally hit a 3-inch plastic connector line to the main 16-inch gas line made of steel.
The combination of the two materials presented some difficulty for Questar technicians.
Shepherd said they were able to put a temporary stop on the line, while crews worked to make repairs. A crew of 60 firefighters responded, running hoses into the gas-filled buildings in case of an explosion.
In the meantime, police officers endured the afternoon heat trying to steer pedestrians clear of potential danger.
It didn't take much to convince carriage driver Steve Singleton to turn his horse Billy out of harm's way.
Singleton said he heard the "whoosh" of natural gas escape after the worker hit the line and was hit by the nauseating smell.
"I'm just sitting here trying to get my head clear," Singleton said, while the white Belgian draft horse munched on grass.
Singleton had moved a safe distance to North Temple and Main Street and contented himself with letting children pet the big gentle animal. He said the gas rupture messed up the afternoon's downtown runs, but he had one picture-taking session to get through before he was done for the day.
By about 4 p.m., after Questar technicians scanned the air inside the buildings for the presence of gas, most employees were allowed to return to work.