Gas line leak prompts courthouse evacuation

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff
ljenkins@starhq.com
A backhoe operator working on the expansion of the Register of Deeds Office at the Carter County Courthouse Thursday morning accidentally busted a natural gas line, creating a major hazard for courthouse employees and customers. The building was evacuated at approximately 10:30 a.m. due to the leak behind the building.
Atmos Energy, Elizabethton Fire Department, Carter County Sheriff's Department and Elizabethton City Police responded to the scene. 
According to Planning Director Chris Schuettler, who is overseeing the expansion, an underground utility locator's estimation was a few inches off from the actual location of the line, which resulted in the gas leak. "It was not in the spot they thought it would be," Schuettler said.
Emergency Management Director Ernest Jackson said workers marked the gas line, according to the line locator, but when the digging began, the line was "a few inches off."
Because the odor of natural gas permeated courthouse halls, officials felt the building should be evacuated as a precautionary measure, according to County Mayor Dale Fair.
Employees evacuated for approximately one-and-a-half hours. Once Atmos Energy repaired the line and aired out the building, employees returned around noon.
Atmos Energy employees advise those digging for gas line locations to call 1-800-351-1111 at least two days prior to the project.
If residents smell gas, and the odor persists and gets stronger, Atmos Energy advises leaving the premises immediately and calling their office from a nearby phone.
Before evacuating a building, it is important to follow these precautions - extinguish any open flames, such as candles or cigarettes, do not strike matches, do not turn any appliances on or off and don't use the telephone.