THIRD EXPLOSION IN 18 MONTHS

String of gas explosions shake up Rockland

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

Aerial photo from FoxNY

Rockland keeps exploding and O&R says each incident is unrelated.

A probable natural gas explosion in one of Nyack College’s buildings late on the morning of June 4 injured eight people and required a response from emergency personnel and extensive work by Orange & Rockland to control the damage.

Orange & Rockland Spokesman Mike Donovan said there is no evidence to indicate a connection to other recent gas line issues which have occurred or larger degradation of gas infrastructure. Last June Broadway in Nyack incurred an explosion due to a gas rupture, followed by an hour or so of a steady fire flowing out of the stream of gas. In January 2012 an explosion of a gas line in West Haverstraw caused serious injury to two volunteer firefighters and destroyed homes in a condominium park.

Regarding the June 4 incident, Orange & Rockland’s working theory is that one of the service lines near the college was pulled from its coupling, possibly as a result of a recent excavation.

“There appears to have been recent excavation over the top of the pipe between the gym and the gas main,” Donovan explained. “We tested the other gas main infrastructure up there at the college yesterday and overnight and all the tests came back strong. The infrastructure is performing well.”

No additional damage to outside structures has been found yet, but Orange & Rockland did cut power to 30 nearby homes while they pressure tested underground facilities and power lines for unseen damage. According to Donovan, the homes have had their power restored, but about a dozen buildings remain without gas service.

O&R runs PR campaigns to promote awareness of “Call Before You Dig” so that excavators or property owners do not dislodge sensitive gas lines. Donovan stated, “There’s a state organization that is dedicated to this effort. We do a raft of outreach to contractors, including personally meeting with them to go through the procedure.”

Orange & Rockland continue to work with police to investigate the source of the leak. South Nyack-Grandview Police Chief Brent Newbury explained that the working theory was that a natural gas leak filled the area with fumes, which were then somehow ignited.

In addition, Newbury explained police had ruled out foul play as a cause of the explosion.

Witness reports seem to support the leak theory, with claims that the air smelled of gas shortly before the explosion. Though the exact point where the gas leaked remains undetermined, Jennings explained there was no maintenance work or known structural problems which could account for the incident.

This week’s incident occurred at around 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday when witnesses heard and felt the blast in the Sky Island Lodge, a two-story building situated at the middle of the campus containing classrooms, offices and a computer lab. The explosion shattered or otherwise damaged all of the building’s windows and blew out its doors, but did not cause a fire.

Eight people, including one student and one Nyack Police Officer, were injured by the explosion. All were sent to Nyack Hospital as a precautionary measure, but one was transferred to Westchester Medical Center for further evaluation.

As of June 5, all but the transferred patient have been released. Though initial reports indicated people were trapped inside the building, everybody inside the building at the time of the explosion have been accounted for.

The building’s occupants were largely registrar and assessment staff, while the student was inside to take an exam. According to Nyack College Executive Vice President David Jennings, the school was lucky the building was largely vacant due to the summer session.

“It could have been very bad” Jennings said. “We’re very, very grateful.”

Police cleared an area around the building and evacuated several adjacent buildings to protect bystanders from the presence of residual gases which could have ignited. By 2:30 p.m., Orange & Rockland personnel had the gases under control.

“Our crews were able to go into the main building and ensure that it was safe so that county sheriff’s investigators can go in and begin their internal forensic investigation,” Orange & Rockland Employee Communications Manager Sophia Salis said.

No surrounding buildings were damaged by the blast. According to South Nyack mayor Bonnie Christian, about 700 nearby Nyack Middle School students were kept inside until the end of the school day to protect against fumes and would not be evacuated, but a later decision was made to evacuate the school.

A neighbor who lives about one-half mile from the explosion told the Rockland County Times the boom was so loud he immediately ran out of his house to see if a tree fell on his roof.