Restaurants cope with gas outage
Some close, others offer limited menu
GAS LINE EXPLOSION - MULTIMEDIA
- Video: Lance Horton discusses TECO's progress
- Video: TECO President Speaks at Press Conference
- Video: TECO discusses plan for gas restoration
- Video: Restaurants cope with gas outage
- Photos: Hotel owner uses personal house to help patrons
- Photos: Ritz Carlton sends laundry to Marco Island
- Photos: Restaurants improvise kitchens, menus during gas outage
- Photos: Naples restaurants shut down due to gas line break
- Family of victim shoulders true burden of gas line explosion
- TECO official: Backup to prevent future gas outages not likely in near future
- TECO shifts focus to restoring gas to Collier residents
- Staying safe: Fire officials worried about propane, outdoor grills at restaurants
- Gas outage update: Many back in business
- Gas explosion victim, Bonita Springs soccer star, critical in Tampa hospital
- Room service: Hotels struggle to keep guests happy during gas outage
- Natural disaster: Gas outages cause financial setbacks, cold showers
- Can businesses collect lost revenue from gas line break?
- Restaurants improvise kitchens, menus during gas outage
- Some businesses gain as others scramble to avoid loss from gas main break
- 8,000 homes, restaurants without gas
- Restaurants across Southwest Florida shut down due to gas line break in Fort Myers
- Archived Interactive Map: Restaurant openings/closings due to the gas line explosion
Update: 3:13 p.m.
The TECO gas line that exploded Thursday had been temporarily relocated for road construction in Lee County.
But it's hard to say whether that contributed to the accident.
"When they relocated it, they did mark its location," said Paul Wingard, deputy director of the Lee County Department of Transportation.
The relocated gas line was marked with yellow PVC pipes, sticking out of the ground by about 4 feet, he said. But some of those markers later disappeared.
On Monday, an inspector for TECO noticed a few of the markers had gone missing, and told the contractor working on the road project that the company would be out today to replace them, Wingard said.
He said state and federal laws require contractors to know where all underground utilities are located before starting an excavation.
"Regardless of whether the markers are there or not they still have an obligation under the law to protect that line," Wingard said.
Update: 2:15 p.m.
TECO is bringing in workers from around the state to help restore gas power in Southwest Florida.
Repairs to the line break, which has left thousands without gas power, have already been made. Now, the focus is on restoration, said Rick Morera, a company spokesman.
"We anticipate that we will be able to restore some customers today," he said. "I don’t have a number on that. We don’t know."
The first priority is to restore power to hospitals, nursing homes and other critical service providers. Neighboring residents and businesses will benefit because they'll see their gas restored first.
More residents are affected than businesses, Morera said. He didn’t have a comparison to share.
The company expects to bring in about 100 of its employees from other parts of the state to help with the restoration.
Such a large outage is rare, but in this case the line that was hit Thursday by a heavy-equipment operator was the primary one serving Lee and Collier counties.
Update: 1:22 p.m.
At a press conference on Friday, an official with TECO said it would take a week to restore gas to all homes and businesses.
Rick Morera, with TECO, had no comment about the investigation into the explosion Thursday that has left thousands of businesses and residents without gas in Southwest Florida.
"My focus is on restoration," he said.
He said there was a section of the pipeline in Fort Myers that was not affected. About 1,000 to 1,200 customers in Southwest Florida did not lose gas.
He said this incident was "one of the largest I’ve experienced."
About 8,000 business and residents are still without gas.
A release sent by the company at 12:30 p.m. said the gas line was repaired but restoration will be a lengthy process.
Update: 12:33 p.m.
The TECO gas explosion hasn’t just hurt hotels and restaurants.
“We have about 30 stores that are affected in the Naples and Fort Myers area,” said Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for Publix.
How are the grocery stores affected? Without gas, the stores can’t bake breads, muffins and cakes.
Business at the delis has also taken a hit because more than two dozen stores aren’t able to make the bread for their popular subs.
“We are in the process of trying to move around product,” Brous said.
That requires renting trucks and increasing bread routes.
Not all of its bakeries are affected in Southwest Florida.
“It may be that we extend the hours of production at other bakeries,” Brous said.
She said all of the stores south of State Road 80 don’t have gas service.
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 and remain closed today, 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. NBC-2 is reporting he is listed in critical condition.
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. Lanes were opened shortly after midnight.
The outage is affecting 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.
Those restaurants remain closed this morning.
Sukie Honeycutt, co-owner of Ridgway Bar and Grill, 1300 Third Street S., said her restaurant was one of the few restaurants on Third Street South that was open Thursday night. Honeycutt said that since the restaurant does a lot of catering they have support equipment – like propane burners – on hand in case the gas goes out.
“We did 110 dinners last night,” she said this morning. “We're open for business.”
Honeycutt said the bakery and wine shop, Tony's Off Third, is able to stay in operation during the outage, but Bayside, the pair's seafood restaurant in the Venetian Village, will be running a cold menu – items that don't need to be cooked – tonight because of the outage.
Honeycutt said that while she understands officials “have to be very, very cautious about how they proceed” she hopes they are proactive when it comes to visiting businesses quickly to get things back up and running.
“This could go on for days and days,” she said. “It is a crisis situation for many businesses.”
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.
Lisa Swirda, executive director of the Downtown Naples Association, said Evenings on Fifth, a monthly event on Fifth Avenue South, meant lots of people were on the street Thursday night.
Swirda said that while a lot of restaurants were without gas, several “got a little innovative” and served things like cold sandwiches and salads looking for a quick bite. A few restaurants on the street, however, did have to close.
Swirda said she is worried about how the gas outage will affect the popular downtown Naples street in the long run.
“We're concerned,” she said. “Hopefully everyone will pull together and come up with a plan B in between.”
The aftermath is also affecting hotels.
Guests at the Ritz Carlton at Naples woke up without hot water on Friday morning, said hotel spokeswoman Jorian Weiner.
Weither, who maintained the hotel was still operating, said staff was doing “everything possible” to accommodate their guests under the circumstances. The hotel composed a letter for each guest explaining the circumstances.
But, she added, no one has a time table on when gas will be fixed.
The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Resort lost its gas at 6 p.m. Thursday, and Jason Parsons, the hotel's general manager, said his team has been trying to make sure guests are as happy as possible.
“We've been full steam ahead and working like crazy,” he said. “This is what we do. It's like a hurricane or anything else.”
The hotel is without hot water which means no hot showers and no laundry service. The hotel's restaurants have also been affected.
Parsons said the hotel was “caught off guard” by the outage.
“We're at 100 percent occupancy,” he said. “We have a wedding in house, a bar mitzvah in house and three corporate groups in house. We're heading into a busy time, so the timing couldn't be worse.”
Parsons said the hotel's kitchens are adjusting, and a plan is in the works to keep the restaurants open – and the special events running – without gas.
“We're 100 percent without using ovens,” he said.
The biggest concern is how long the outage will last. Parsons said he hasn't been in touch with anyone from the gas company about the outage which.
“That's tough. It's a frustration for us,” he said.
As of 7 p.m. last night, 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.
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