Gas leak prompts evacuation of 12 buildings in San Francisco

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A natural gas leak brought activity to a halt in the Alamo Square neighborhood of San Francisco Tuesday. 

Just after 3 p.m., residents in the vicinity of Scott and McAllister were evacuated after a construction crew accidentally hit an underground main.

"I was about 50 feet away, and I was like 'what's that smell, what's that sound?'", said evacuee Kevin Banks, who was steps away from his door when the line ruptured.  

"And then one of the construction guys ran over to me, and said 'turn around, turn around, go back,'" said Banks. 

From that point on, there was no going home for Banks or anyone else residing in a half-block radius of the intersection. 

Firefighters went through 12 buildings - twice- knocking to alert people to get out as pressurized gas spewed freely.  

"That's 16 individuals we were able to physically make contact with and move out of the buildings," said San Francisco Fire Dept. Lt. Jonathan Baxter, "as a result of the contractor doing work and hitting a four inch diameter main." 

For almost two hours, the priority was getting the line pinched off. 

Breathing gas is a health hazard.

"You can start to get light-headed, nausea, in severe circumstances, you can pass out," noted Baxter.

Even more serious: the risk of explosion, which is why ignition sources had to be eliminated.  

"By leaving people in their houses, someone can turn on a stove, they can light a cigarette, they can turn on a car that's in the affected area," explained Baxter. 

As residents waited outside the safety perimeter, many wondered and worried how their pets were doing, stuck inside. 

"I was just walking home from work, and now I've been waiting for more than an hour," said resident Austin Tovar, "and they're saying a fireman will go in and get our dog out for us, and then hopefully in an hour or so we'll be able to get back in." 

Knowing the area would be flooded with arriving residents in the evening, plans were forming for overnight shelter should PG&E's fix hit a snag. 

"We're evaluating evacuation center needs," said Francis Zamora of the San Francisco Dept. of Emergency Management.

"So if any of these residents need to stay out of the area longer term, we'll take a look at that, whether it's a temporary shelter or something else in the community."

Fortunately, there was no need.

Utility crews had the main "crimped" and the leak stopped about two hours after it started. 

They remained at the scene for another six hours, digging down to repair the damaged section, then filling in the holes and patching the pavement. 

A PG&E supervisor at the site said the third-party crew that hit the line is contracted with the city for the installation of new streetlights.