During some routine excavation work occurring just south of McCosh Health Center on Monday morning, a backhoe struck a 2.5-inch high-pressure gas line, causing a rupture shortly before 10 a.m. The resulting gas leak caused about 500 people in 11 buildings in central campus to evacuate for almost three hours.
The excavation work was part of an ongoing landscaping project in progress just south of the health center. The workers were using a map marked by the New Jersey public utilities corporation Public Service Electric and Gas Company to indicate where the gas lines lay. However, it did not indicate this particular line, according to University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua.
This is the fourth gas leak to occur on the University campus in less than two years. In April 2012, an outdoor gas leak near the Friend Center prompted the evacuation of more than 200 people. That July, around 100 people were evacuated from the Engineering Quadrangle due to a gas leak. This past February, over Intersession, a burner was left on in the kitchen of the Frist Campus Center Gallery, causing a gas leak.
After the leak began this morning, the University’s Department of Public Safety and Environmental Health and Safety Office began evacuating the surrounding buildings, as they were in danger of collecting hazardous levels of gas. According to Mbugua, these buildings included McCosh Health Center; academic buildings Guyot Hall, Moffett Laboratory, Schultz Laboratory, Eno Hall and Jones Hall; and Wilson College dormitories 1938 Hall, 1937 Hall, 1927-Clapp Hall, Dodge-Osborn Hall and Feinberg Hall.
All 10 a.m. classes in the closed buildings were disrupted, as students and faculty were told to stand on the north or south lawns of Frist. Emergency vehicles parked in the area around Guyot, and a helicopter flew overhead. Bystanders could detect a gas odor from as far south as Bloomberg Hall and as far north as Woolworth Music Center.
Public Safety and EHS continued to monitor the natural gas levels of other buildings in the area, including Frist, Mbugua said. Frist was not officially evacuated by these departments, though some students in Frist also said they were advised to evacuate. Library specialist Abbey Thompson also evacuated Mendel Music Library as a precautionary measure.
A maintenance worker at the site said at 11 a.m. that the leak was very strong and had been continuing for more than an hour. The employees worked to locate a place where the line could be “crimped” together to close the leak, Mbugua said.
At 11:53 a.m., Mbugua announced that the gas had been turned off and that members of the Princeton Fire Department, Public Safety and EHS were checking the gas levels in buildings that had been evacuated before clearing them for occupation. At 12:45 p.m., Mbugua announced that all buildings had been cleared for occupation as of 12:40 p.m.
No injuries were reported, Mbugua said.
In addition, Wu/Wilcox Dining Hall served limited lunch and dinner menus today due to the leak, Dining Services announced via Twitter.
Although it is already quite clear to construction crews how the accident occurred, they will continue to look into the circumstances surrounding it, Mbugua said.
The construction project began in October. Despite the loss of work time on Monday, the project is still scheduled to be completed in mid-December, Mbugua said. PSE&G will be responsible for completing repairs to the gas line.
Meanwhile, a Public Safety officer stood at the pathway leading to the courtyard behind Dodge-Osborn and Eno, preventing students from passing. That courtyard contained the site of the leak.
Executive Director of University Health Services John Kolligian said McCosh was evacuated at approximately 9:45 a.m. While it is unclear whether any students had been staying in the infirmary overnight, Kolligian said that all students had been escorted out of the health center, although he did not disclose where they were relocated to.
“Because this is a hazard, [McCosh staff] did their best to move [students] to a secure setting,” he explained.
Director of the Princeton Environmental Institute Stephen Pacala said he was instructed to evacuate Guyot at about 10 a.m., adding that the evacuation was not a major disruption.
“I was talking with a colleague about N-fixation in the ocean, and then we went outside and continued talking about N-fixation in the ocean,” Pacala said. “We left taking care of the gas leak to the professionals.”
Evan Kratzer ’16 said his introductory Chinese class was meeting on the second floor of Frist when someone knocked on the classroom door and asked the class to leave.
“There was no formal organization structure,” he said, regarding the unofficial evacuation of Frist.
Likith Govindaiah ’17 evacuated his dorm, 1937 Hall, after hearing an alarm at about 10:30 a.m.
“I was sleeping before the alarm went off,” he said.
When he arrived outside, authorities told him the evacuation would last no more than two hours, based on previous projects to repair gas leaks. He also received an email informing him of the evacuation.
Staff writers Chitra Marti and Lorenzo Quiogue and News Editor Patience Haggin contributed reporting.