Gas leak and explosion create a downtown traffic nightmare


POSTED: Friday, August 14, 2009

A small explosion in a state office building yesterday followed a break in a 4-inch Gas Co. pipe that snarled downtown traffic for most of the day.

The blast at 12:48 a.m. blew out a window on the empty second floor of the Leiopapa State Office Tower on Beretania Street. There were no injuries, but a statement from Gov. Linda Lingle said the building would remain closed today.

;[Preview]  Beretania gas leak causes havoc

An explosion in a downtown Honolulu office building early this morning shut down several roads and caused a mess with traffic.

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;[Preview]  Downtown buildings shutdown due to gas leak

The disruption downtown today due to the gas leak caused buildings to shutdown and could last until tomorrow.

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The explosion occurred in a utility room that houses communications equipment.

Fire crews determined that gas from a 4-inch synthetic natural gas line outside the building had likely leaked into conduits and created a buildup in the room. Synthetic natural gas is used to heat boilers, stoves and ovens.

“;There was no one in the building at the time,”; said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Terry Seelig. “;There was no fire. The blast did blow out the door and the window.”; He said workers in the building at 235 S. Beretania St. reported smelling gas at about 10:20 p.m. Wednesday.

Firefighters using meters detected no gas outside the building, and the gas is not used in the building.

At 5 a.m. yesterday, at the request of the Fire Department, Hawaiian Electric Co. cut power to about 50 customers in the area of Queen Emma, Alakea and Beretania streets. It was restored at 12:30 p.m. after Gas Co. crews placed a temporary patch to fix the break in the pipe. They will return today to complete the job.

Power remained out in the State Officer Tower at 4:15 p.m. yesterday, and Lingle said crews will inspect it this morning and make sure it is properly ventilated before deciding whether workers can return this afternoon.

State workers at the Capital Center on Alakea Street also were told not to report to work yesterday because of the power outage, but those offices will reopen today.

Unaffected by the outage were the state Capitol, St. Andrew's Priory, District Court, Hemmeter Building, and Central Intermediate School.

Beretania between Punchbowl and Alakea streets was closed until 3:30 p.m. Part of Alakea Street between Hotel and Beretania streets was closed until 1:30 p.m.

The closures created a nightmare for downtown commuters as traffic was rerouted for safety reasons and to accommodate gas and fire crews.

Even a partial closure of Beretania Street proved a major headache for TheBus because it is the major bus route through town, said Roger Morton, the company's executive director. “;We had to use Queen Street as an alternative for all our urban buses,”; Morton said.

He said his staff “;worked very hard being creative to maintain the schedule,”; at times re-routing buses to keep them moving. “;It was a very hard day and a hard morning for us.”;

Stephanie Ackerman, spokeswoman for The Gas Co., said the underground leak in the synthetic natural gas pipe was in front of the State Office Tower. More than 15 Gas Co. workers were sent to the scene to assess the situation and repair the line.

Ackerman said the only commercial customer affected was the YWCA on Richards Street. The Gas Co. supplies synthetic natural gas to 40,000 Oahu customers.