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Gas leak in downtown Oak Park

Construction backhoe cut gas line on Westgate

August 11th, 2017 1:12 PM

Updated: Aug. 11th, 2017 2:18 PM

Alexa Rogals/Staff photographer

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Parts of Marion Street and Lake Street in downtown Oak Park were evacuated beginning late Friday morning after a backhoe cut a four-inch gas line on Westgate just west of Marion Street. Nicor stopped the leak just before 2 p.m. the village reported.

The smell of gas was thick in the area, streets were closed and businesses shut down. Shops and apartments on the west side of Marion Street from North Blvd. to Lake Street and some on the south side of Lake from Marion to Harlem were evacuated.

The fire department responded to a call at 11:11 a.m. Friday of an active gas leak, said Deputy Fire Chief Peter Pilafas.

Pilafas told the Journal the gas line was cut by a construction crew working on repaving Westgate as part of the Emerson high-rise construction project.

Thomas Castillo, owner of Burrito Boss, 1110 Westgate St., and cashier Neida Cervantes were at work when the gas line was struck. They first became aware that something was wrong when they saw construction workers running from the area where the line was struck, Cervantes said.

"You could see the gas shooting out from the middle of the street," Cervantes said. "We turned everything off (in the kitchen). But nobody told us nothing."

She said they received a phone call from someone at an area business who told them, "You gotta get out of there."

She said police and ambulances began to arrive shortly afterward.

Kelby Phillips and Mark Kaminski, both architects, were evacuated from the 3rd-floor office at 1101 Lake St.

"Firefighters came into the office and told everyone to leave," Kaminski said, as he and Phillips waited at one of the sidewalk dining tables at Lake Street Kitchen + Bar, 1101 Lake St.

Phillips said they were told by a police officer at about 1 p.m. that it could take about 90 more minutes before they are allowed to return to their building.

On the other side of Marion and along North Boulevard, shop owners and patrons stood outside wondering what had happened. Some had been informed by firefighters and police about the gas leak, while others had not.

Michelle Brewer, of the retail store Careful Peach Boutique, 1024 North Blvd., was returning to the shop around 1 p.m. She said she closed the store and left for about an hour because of the leak.

"We had people complaining about the gas smell," she said, noting that one customer told her rescue officials were evacuating the area.

Katie Liberatore, owner of Midwest Microblading, 1006 North Blvd., said she was unaware anything had happened until she smelled the gas around the doorway of her business.

Liberatore walked outside and was overwhelmed by "a rush of gas," she said.

Frank Popowski, a Chicago resident, said he was getting his hair cut at Center Stage hair salon, 1012 North Blvd., when he saw the flashing lights from the police and fire vehicles in the area.

"I was oblivious to it when I was inside, but as soon as I walked out it really hit me," he said.

In announcing that the gas leak had been closed by Nicor, David Powers, village government spokesman, said the gas line appeared to only serve the new Emerson/Target project and that other area buildings should not have been affected.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com