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Dozens evacuated due to gas leak in downtown Rochester Friday night

Union Leader Correspondent

January 04. 2014 1:58PM

ROCHESTER - After about 60 people were evacuated as a precaution Friday night, Unitil crews returned to North Main Street to repair a natural gas leak Saturday.

Earlier in the morning, all residents were allowed to return to the apartments and service was restored to the street, which was re-opened, according to Carol Valianti, vice president of communications and public affairs at Unitil.

Valianti said firefighters called Unitil around 9:45 p.m. as they were investigating a report of an odor of gas. She added crews confirmed there was a gas leak, but it was limited to the street.

As a precaution, North Main Street was closed down from Wakefield Street to Union Street and 16 buildings - which contain apartments, restaurants and a variety of businesses - were evacuated.

'It really was just a precaution,' Valianti said, adding there was little danger since the gas had not seeped into nearby buildings.

At the end of the night, a majority of residents were able to return to their homes, except for those living above Fat Tony's Italian Restaurant.

'All the residents were allowed back in there this morning,' Valianti said.

Valianti said Unitil crews believe they located the source of the leak, continue to check the system and should finish up with repairs Saturday afternoon. She added some customers could temporarily lose service when crews shut off the gas to re-charge the affected pipes, which have been isolated from the rest of the system.

'At this point it's too early to speculate what may have caused it,' Valianti said, adding the leak could have been caused by the cold temperatures.

Valianti said anyone who believes there could be a gas leak should immediately call 911 or their gas company. She added gas companies add mercaptan to ensure natural gas - which is odorless - has a distinctive 'rotten eggs smell' as a precaution.

'It's really see, hear and smell,' Valianti said, adding indications of a leak include seeing bubbles, hearing the hiss of escaping gas or smelling the mercaptan.

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