Restaurants cope with gas outage
Some close, others offer limited menu
State Road 82 and Colonial Boulevard
GAS LINE EXPLOSION - MULTIMEDIA
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FORT MYERS — A natural gas line explosion in Lee County that severely burned one man Thursday afternoon, caused restaurants from Fort Myers to Naples to close early as more than 8,000 customers lost gas.
Around 1:45 p.m., Posen Construction employee Mario Santos, 30, of Bonita Springs, was working on the Colonial Boulevard widening when a bulldozer he was driving hit an eight-inch gas main.
Santos received third-degree burns to more than 50 percent of his body and was taken by medical helicopter to Tampa.
Colonial Boulevard was closed for several hours because the fire, with flames estimated at 40 feet wide and 60 feet high, caused damage to the road.
“If you saw the fireball, it was like almost the shape of a globe. It was almost round,” said Fort Myers City Councilman Tom Leonardo, who was driving through the area at the time of the fire. “I would say it had to be 40 to 50 feet in diameter and about that high.”
The outage affected customers of TECO Peoples Gas.
As peak dinner time approached Thursday evening, restaurants from The Forum in Fort Myers to some on Fifth Avenue South in Naples had to turn away prospective diners on a busy Thursday night.
The outage proved to be especially bad timing for Fifth Avenue South restaurants. They were expecting big crowds due to the “Evening on Fifth” festivities, where musicians and entertainers take to the streets the second Thursday of every month.
While many restaurants closed altogether, some made do with what they could. McCabe’s Irish Pub & Grill printed up a “McCabe’s Gas Crisis Menu,” which featured cold sandwiches, along with stews and pot pies they could cook without gas.
Across the courtyard, Yabba Island Grill was basically empty before 8 p.m.
General Manager Marcus Preece, 40, said he was planning to serve 200 to 250 people on Thursday night.
“We had gas from 5 (p.m.) until 6 (p.m.),” Preece said. “We were cooking and we noticed the flames were going lower and lower on the stove.”
Without gas, Yabba employees couldn’t cook food and couldn’t sanitize their dishes. They also couldn’t sell alcohol because they can’t sell booze without food.
“Twenty employees were sent home tonight with no money in their pockets whatsoever,” Preece said.
Not all Fifth Avenue South restaurants seemed to be affected.
Business was “booming” at Bert’s Seafood and Chowder House, which for some reason still had gas at 8 p.m., said Annie Reynolds, 24, a hostess. Reynolds said she assumes they’re on a different gas line.
“It’s crazy,” Reynolds said. “We have an hour wait.”
By 7 p.m. TECO Peoples Gas spokesman Rick Morera said the company had completed outbound calls to all of its customers in Lee and Collier counties to let them know of the problem, and that explain that fixing the outage will involve a difficult and lengthy repair process.
“One of the main issues is assessing the damage and trying to make the repairs as quickly and safely as possible,” Morera said Thursday evening. “Once the repair is completed we can start the restoration process.”
After the break is repaired, the Morera explained that the restoration sequence includes three key steps.
First, each customer’s gas service is locked down — physically turned off and locked — by a representative of Peoples Gas as a safety precaution and as required by federal and state regulations.
Next, the gas mains will be re-pressurized to the appropriate level and inspected.
Then, Peoples Gas crews will visit each customer premise and insure natural gas service is restored, pilot lights will be re-lit and safety checks will be completed by a representative of Peoples Gas.
“Customers should not turn off their gas supply at the main meter. Only emergency personnel or utility personnel should turn the valve on or off,” Morera wrote on the website.
However the question of when gas will be back remains unanswered.
Morera said the estimated time of restoration is not yet known, but that the company would continue to update its website with the latest information.
It couldn’t come on soon enough for Todd and Sandra Brooks, owners of Lindburgers and Bottles restaurant off U.S. 41 North in Naples.
The couple, who recently relocated from Kansas City to buy the restaurant said the 45 customers they had just before the gas outage — including a private party of about 20 — was their biggest crowd since taking over Oct. 1.
At first, customers were angry when told there would be no hot food, Todd Brooks said, but were understanding when they learned what had happened.
He estimates he lost about $1,000 in sales, which is a big deal to a mom and pop restaurant like his.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Todd Brooks said. “We’re struggling as it is. It’s been a rough start with the economy. This is kind of a punch in the face.”
Daily News correspondent Valli Finney contributed to this report.