RED SPRINGS — About 75 people returned to their homes early Sunday after a natural gas leak forced the evacuation of a neighborhood on the outskirts of Red Springs.
According to Larry Osborne, director of the Red Springs Baptist Men’s Mission Camp, evacuees from the Thunder Valley area, including residents of the Sandy Acres trailer park, left the impromptu shelter at about 1:30 a.m.
It was about that time that crews from Piedmont Natural Gas had finished repairing a pipeline that ruptured at about 3:30 p.m. when a contractor struck the line while digging for a new one. David Trusty, spokesperson for Piedmont Natural Gas, said on Monday that because the leak was in an open area, he didn’t think it proposed much of a risk for the surrounding residents, but that an evacuation whenever there is a leak is “standard protocol” for many agencies.
“There is a very, very narrow window where ignition is possible,” he said.
Trusty said he was out of the office when the incident occurred and didn’t have many details, but that the line should have been marked and contractors should have called before digging to learn its exact location.
“Quite honestly, sometimes they call, we mark it, and they hit it anyway,” Trusty said, “and in some cases, the lines aren’t located beforehand.”
Residents within a mile radius of the leak, at the intersection of Old Lowery and Pearsall roads, were advised to leave Saturday afternoon and were told to expect a stay that could end as soon as midnight or stretch up to 15 hours, according to Robeson County Sheriff Ken Sealey. Sheriff’s deputies were not letting anyone past roadblocks set up at the intersections of Old Lowery and Mt. Tabor roads, and Old Lowery Road and Dixie Drive.
Evacuees were first taken to the Red Springs Community Building, and then were either bused by SEATS, the county’s bus system, or drove their own vehicles to the camp, where Robeson County EMS was on standby. At about 8 p.m., workers from the Red Cross and volunteers from area churches were working to supply the evacuees with food and water. Next on the list, according to Pat Martin of the Disaster Assessment Team, were blankets and pillows to make them comfortable.
“My main priority is food,” Martin said. “This happened around 4 or 5 p.m., so I’m sure these people need to eat.”
As evacuees arrived, Martin directed them to sofas and armchairs while volunteers took down names. Families were then led to cafeteria tables at the other end of the building, near a kitchen where a meal was being prepared. Some began playing board games or started shooting pool.
Gathered around a table were Furlin Carter, Annie Graham and their children Marcus, Amy, Emily and Malachi. Carter said the family didn’t have a chance to grab anything on their way out of their home in Sandy Acres. The family was at first told by Piedmont workers to stay in their home, less than 20 feet from the pipeline, shortly after hearing a bang and then a loud, steady “whoosh.”
“It smelled bad, like rotten eggs,” Graham said. “… We knew we couldn’t stay there.”
Workers from the natural gas company then returned to tell them not to start a fire or even light a cigarette, Carter said. Then firefighters from Shannon Volunteer Fire Department directed them to the community building.
“I was afraid to even start the van to leave,” Carter said.
Abbi Overfelt works for Civitas Media as editor of The Red Springs Citizen.