TECO shifts focus to restoring gas to Collier residents

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Restaurants cope with gas outage

Some close, others offer limited menu

— TECO crews will continue restoring gas service to customers today, with a focus on residential neighborhoods, particularly in Collier County.

Most of the company’s commercial customers have been taken care of already.

On Thursday, 6,000 residential and 1,200 commercial customers lost service after a construction worker driving a bulldozer damaged an eight-inch main, causing an explosion and a major break in the service line in Southwest Florida.

The communities TECO crews will visit today are: Fiddlers Creek, The Brooks, Tarpon Bay, Mediterra; Tiburon, The Reserve, The Estuary, Aviano, Grey Oaks, Tuscany Reserve, Quail Woods, Treviso Bay and River Reach.

The company is doing more to get the message out about where its crews will be working daily. That includes calling more customers and leaving phone messages when they are away about the days crews plan to visit their neighborhood.

“We are trying to reduce the number of times we have to visit a customer’s home,” said Rick Morera, a spokesman for TECO Peoples Gas.

“It isn’t the kind of thing where the customers set up an appointment and we meet them,” he said. “It’s not that way. It’s very difficult to say that we can be there at a specific time.”

By 4 p.m. Monday, service had been returned to 920 commercial customers and 990 residential customers. By Tuesday night, the company had service restored to 98 percent of its commercial customers and 35 percent of its residential customers.

On Tuesday, crews fanned out to about a dozen neighborhoods, including Gateway in Fort Myers, Porto Romano at Miromar in Estero and Grey Oaks in Naples.

“The target is still Friday to get most people restored,” Morera said.

With the outage, some businesses were forced to close, while others scrambled to find ways to stay open and keep their customers

Lisa Kelly Boet, co-owner of Bamboo Café in Naples, had her service restored on Monday at noon. Over the weekend, her restaurant could only offer a limited menu because it was without gas to power its stoves.

“It was very quick,” Boet said of the restoration. “It took 15 minutes, which was a wonderful thing that we were celebrating. We were so relieved.”

Chayan Yurdusev, a server at Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro in Naples, said gas wasn’t restored at his restaurant until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, so it was still serving a modified menu, with fewer choices and no discounts.

He said the restaurant didn’t know when the TECO crews would arrive so staff didn’t do enough preparation work to have a full menu on Tuesday night, even though there was gas.

Over the weekend, the restaurant didn’t offer the usual specials and discounts because of the limited menu.

“We lost a lot of customers,” Yurdusev said. “A lot of customers, they cancelled their reservations.”

TECO has pointed the finger at Posen Construction, the contractor working on the widening of Colonial Boulevard when one of its heavy-equipment operators, Mario Santos, hit the gas line.

TECO officials claim the test stations and line markings identifying the gas pipe on Colonial Boulevard were destroyed during the widening. Despite warnings to not dig until lines could be remarked, TECO claims Posen “proceeded with the construction work, which resulted in the line break.”

Posen hasn’t commented about the accident.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Santos remained in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital’s intensive care unit, said hospital spokeswoman Ellen Fiss.

Two of Santos’ brothers also kept vigil in a quiet waiting room outside of the intensive care unit on Tuesday, while the rest of the family headed back to Bonita Springs to return to work.

The two brothers said they were not comfortable giving an interview, but said their immediate thoughts were on their brother and his welfare.

Staff writer Elysa Batista contributed to this story.

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