- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Two blocks of Wisconsin Avenue NW were evacuated for more than an hour yesterday after utility crews conducting line maintenance accidentally severed a gas main.

The incident happened at about 12:20 p.m., and Metropolitan Police and the D.C. fire department evacuated buildings in the 5000 and 5100 blocks of Wisconsin Avenue between Garrison and Fessenden streets. Traffic was stopped in both directions.

Washington Gas spokesman Miguel Gonzalez said the bottom fell out of the main during a "routine replacement project" when crews were trying to replace a portion of the 12-inch main.

Gas crews reduced the flow to the pressurized line and had the main clamped within 45 minutes. Mr. Gonzalez said service was not interrupted during the repair.

Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said no one was hurt.

People were allowed to return to those buildings by 2 p.m. after crews from the fire department's hazardous materials unit checked to make sure there were no traces of gas.

Vijay Bhatia, who owns a Subway sandwich store on Wisconsin Avenue, said he was forced to evacuate at the height of the lunch-hour rush.

"Somebody just came in and said, 'There's been a gas leak. You've got to go,'" Mr. Bhatia said.

He said he had several people in the store at the time, and the smell of gas was noticeable when they went outside.

By late yesterday, everything had returned to normal, but Mr. Bhatia estimated the evacuation cost him about $1,500 in business. "I lost my lunch business," he said. "We lost a lot of money."

Mr. Gonzalez said yesterday's incident was not connected to work being done to improve Georgetown's utility infrastructure. "This project is totally unrelated to the Georgetown project," he said.

Washington Gas, along with the Potomac Electric Power Co., Verizon, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and the D.C. Division of Transportation, recently began a three-year, $30 million upgrade of the aging underground electrical system in Georgetown.

Pepco, which is replacing old cables and electrical gear under Georgetown, has been plagued by a series of manhole explosions and underground fires in the District for several years.

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