Apex gas line leak tests emergency plans

aramos@newsobserver.comDecember 9, 2013 

— A Dixie Pipeline Co. gas leak Monday caused the evacuation of several businesses along N.C. 55 and forced police to close the road to traffic for more than an hour Monday.

The evacuations were just a precaution, said town officials, who followed emergency plans and procedures developed after the warehouse explosion at EQ Industrial Services in 2006, which resulted in the evacuation of about 15,000 residents and sent chemicals into the air over nearby neighborhoods.

“It’s deja vu. You can’t help but think about it,” said Fire Chief Mark Haraway. “The biggest thing that crossed my mind was going to that plan.”

Twice a year, the Apex Fire Department runs through emergency drills at the Dixie Pipeline site with its personnel. The response to Monday’s leak went according to plan, Haraway said.

“We set up command, worked jointly with their people, closed the roads,” he said. “The biggest reason is because that facility does handle a flammable gas that, on conditions like today, is going to lay low. We don’t want any sources of ignition. So we err on the side of safety with that facility.”

About 10 businesses were in the affected area covering about a quarter mile on N.C 55 between U.S. 1 and Technology Drive. A half dozen businesses, including a Bojangles’ and Ready Mix concrete plant, were evacuated.

Patrons and employees inside other businesses, including the Comfort Inn and Chevy’s Ale House, were asked to remain inside while firefighters went door-to-door testing air quality.

Dixie Pipeline employees reported the leak at about 11:15 a.m., said police. Employees first noticed the leak on some tubing that feeds into the dehydration unit at the Apex terminal site at about 10:23 a.m., said spokesman Rick Rainey.

The tube removes any moisture in propane as it goes into a tank. The affected tube was not part of the main pipeline, Rainey said.

Crews isolated the lines, stopping the flow of propane, and called it in, Rainey said. No injuries were reported, and the company was able to resume operations by about 1 p.m., Rainey said.

“We don’t know what caused the leak,” he said. “It’s part of our investigation.”

The Dixie Pipeline transports propane from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi to customers throughout the Southeast, according to the company’s website.

Chevy’s Ale House owner Tim McCrimmon said the road closures and evacuations coincided with the restaurant’s opening hours.

“I suppose we lost a few customers,” McCrimmon said. “Stuff happens. You have to take it in stride. What would have really hurt business would have been having a major disaster.”

At the Comfort Inn, the evacuations happened after most guests had checked out. About a dozen people were still at the hotel. Guests were told to remain in the lobby in case of an evacuation order, said general manager Anita Patel.

Patel has worked at the hotel for 15 years and said there’s never been a incident like Monday’s gas leak that affected the hotel. It stayed open during the EQ disaster.

“No one panicked,” she said. “Everybody understood it was beyond our control, and it was a precautionary measure.”

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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