Natual gas line cut
A PG&E CREW tries to uncover part of the pipe that was damaged on Bettencourt and Fourth Street West on Wednesday afternoon.
A "shelter in place" order was in effect for almost three hours for part of the west side of Sonoma Wednesday, after a stump digger cut through a pressurized two-inch natural gas line on the corner of Bettencourt Street and Fourth Street West.
The order was lifted at about 2:15 p.m. when two PG&E crews capped the leak.
A reverse 9-1-1 call went out from the Sonoma Police Department warning people in a four-square-block area to stay inside and shut their windows and doors.
Sonoma Valley Hospital, which is kitty-corner from the leak, went on divert, which means ambulances that would be coming to the hospital would be sent to other hospitals, said Capt. Bob Norrbom, division chief with the Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority.
One patient did manage to get to the hospital as the fire department escorted a pregnant woman to the emergency room. And the fire department also escorted an ambulance that was involved in a patient transfer.
"We were monitoring the hospital closely," Norrbom said. "We have a gas detector in each engine and were in the hospital going from floor to floor monitoring to see if there were any gas levels."
Norrbom said because natural gas is lighter than air, it dissipated quickly especially since there was little wind. But if it had built up in a confined area, it would have been dangerous.
"We didn't have any (gas) readings in the hospital," Norrbom said. "If we would have detected gas, we would have had to evacuate the hospital."
Students at Sassarini Elementary School on Fifth Street West were also ordered to shelter in place. Norrbom said a firefighter went to the school with a gas monitor, and while there was the smell of gas, there was little present.
Only one person was evacuated, a woman who lived in the home closest to the line break, and Norrbom said she didn't want to stick around anyway. The rush of the high-pressure gas sounded, in the words of one witness, "like a tornado that sounded like a freight train."
Sonoma police oficers blocked off both Andrieux and Bettencourt streets between Second Street West and Fifth Street West.
Sgt. Spencer Crum, with the Sonoma Police Department, said the reverse 9-1-1 call went out to residents and businesses in a four-square-block area. After the leak was capped, calls went out again letting residents know that the event was over.
Brandi Ehlers, public information officer with PG&E, said crews were on site shortly after receiving notification at about 11:25 a.m.
She said the leak was caused by somebody digging up a tree stump and hitting the gas line. Crews had to cap the gas on both sides of the leak.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, only one customer was without gas and Ehlers expected service to be restored later that evening.
"We recommend that people call 8-1-1 before digging," she said.
In addition to PG&E, police and fire, Sonoma Public Works personnel were also on scene.
"There were no major problems," Norrbom added. "This was a good test of our disaster plan."
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I-T photographer Robbi Pengelly contributed to this story.