GAS LINE EXPLOSION - MULTIMEDIA
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- Photos: Restaurants improvise kitchens, menus during gas outage
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- Staying safe: Fire officials worried about propane, outdoor grills at restaurants
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- 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
Mark Graves, who lives in Gateway near the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, isn’t sure when he’ll get his next warm shower.
He’s one of thousands of TECO customers who lost gas service after a major line break.
For some residents and businesses, it could be a week, maybe longer, before their gas is restored.
“I guess we’ll live like the Pilgrims,” said Graves, who has six children and a wife under his roof.
He tried to shrug it off.
“A week without warm showers, we are going to be really cold or really smelly, one of those two,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, a heavy-equipment operator working on a road widening project in Lee County, hit an eight-inch natural gas line, causing an explosion.
The gas outage is not just a headache for local residents. It has hurt hundreds of businesses in Southwest Florida.
TECO Peoples Gas estimates that 6,000 residential and 1,200 commercial customers lost gas in Lee and Collier counties.
Some commercial customers in Fort Myers Beach saw their service restored Friday, along with a few hospitals: Gulf Coast, Collier Regional, Naples Community and Health Park.
Hospitals and nursing homes are the No. 1 priority for TECO.
With the outage, some businesses have been forced to close, while others have scrambled to find ways to stay open and keep their customers happy.
Beth Preddy, spokeswoman for Naples Originals, a consortium of independent restaurant owners, said she’s in denial about the potential harm on the restaurants.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “It’s just like our own little oil spill. It’s just awful.”
On Friday morning, the gas outage forced Bill Kupper to skip his first choice for breakfast at Joe’s Diner.
The visitor from Ohio, staying near Vanderbilt Beach, had to settle for Perkin’s instead.
“I was kind of grumpy about it,” said Kupper, 70. “It’s like the weather, you can’t do anything about it.”
The broken line was repaired by early Friday morning, with TECO crews working overnight to get it fixed. Restoring service, however, will take time.
“I think it’s going as well as can be expected,” said Rick Morera, a TECO spokesman. “It’s a tedious and time-consuming process. Based on our previous experience we are going to be at this for close to a week probably.”
He said it might take longer to restore gas to some customers who are away from home or are seasonal residents who haven’t yet returned to Southwest Florida for the winter.
There are three steps to the restoration:
■ First, each customer’s gas service must be shut off and locked down for safety reasons by TECO.
■ Then, gas mains will be repressurized and inspected.
■ Next, Peoples Gas crews will visit each customer’s home or business and relight their pilot lights, while making safety checks.
Customers are warned not to turn off their gas supply at the main meter.
TECO is bringing in workers from around the state to help restore gas in Southwest Florida.
“We are looking at about 125 people now,” Morera said. “We will continue to add some resources.”
Crews were working into the night on Friday.
At a press conference Friday morning, Morera said the company had no comment about the investigation into Thursday’s explosion. “My focus is on restoration,” he said.
Mario Santos, a road grinder driver for Posen Construction, ran over the gas line. He was severely burned and is being treated in a Tampa hospital.
The contractor, Posen Construction, declined to comment. The company was hired by Lee County to widen Colonial Boulevard.
About 1,000 to 1,200 of TECO’s customers in Southwest Florida did not lose gas. But most did because a main line was hit. Morera called the incident “one of the largest I’ve experienced.”
The gas line that exploded had been temporarily relocated for the widening of Colonial Boulevard. But it’s hard to say whether that contributed to the accident, said Paul Wingard, deputy director of the Lee County Department of Transportation.
“When they relocated it, they did mark its location,” he said.
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 gas company would be out Friday 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.
TECO isn’t commenting about the missing markers. “It’s not something we are going to respond to or answer any questions about,” Morera said.
He also had no comment on how TECO will respond to the losses suffered by local businesses.
Rolan Richard, a vice president for Cafe Portofino in East Naples, said his business has been hurt “pretty good.” He’s been unable to cook his pizzas or pastries. He turned away countless customers on Friday.
Usually, on Fridays he supplies pizza for students at St. John Neumann, a Catholic high school in Naples. He couldn’t do it this week.
“They were upset,” he said. “I had to tell them it was out of my control.”
His business had just started to get better after a slow summer. He doesn’t expect to do much business this weekend – maybe a quarter of what he did last weekend.
He’s had to cancel some of his catering orders.
“I called TECO and they said they don’t do anything with the customers,” Richard said. “They are going to get the gas back on whenever they can, but they won’t compensate us for our loss.”
He doesn’t have his own insurance to cover the losses.
“I would never expect something like this to happen,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.
Staff writers Eric Staats and Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster contributed to this story.