Companies rebuild infrastructure after explosions

Work continues on Sixth Street to repair underground infrastructure that was damaged in explosions two weeks ago.

Ted Marnen, the director of Gannon University’s Campus Police and Safety, said National Fuel and Penelec have been in the downtown area to take care of problems that occurred due to the explosion.

National Fuel has been removing unused gas lines. The explosion was caused by a build-up of combustible gas, but Marnen said natural gas wasn’t necessarily the type of gas that caused the explosion. A representative from National Fuel could not be reached before the time of publication.

Dan Heher, the external affairs manager for Penelec, said the company is currently in the process of rebuilding conduits destroyed by the incident. Heher said they have already repaired broken conduits that caused outages. Customers are not affected by the conduits they are currently repairing. They have to be repaired to put cables in that would come with new customers and if they have to make repairs to the existing system, Heher said.

Marnen said activity began at 9:40 p.m. March 7, when Sgt. Dan Moralis of Police and Safety looked left as he was driving down Peach Street. He saw a flash of light and heard a boom.

Marnen said the reaction was caused by the conduit that blew up underground in front of Old Main. Conduits are underground systems of infrastructure that replace telephone poles. They feed all the electric to the buildings downtown.

Marnen said sometimes when these short out, overheat or something else malfunctions, a chemical reaction happens that creates a gas. This is what happened on March 7. The gas expanded and eventually released, blowing off the man hole covers. The initial explosion led to a transformer exploding in Perry Square and the underground fires. Seven conduits blew up in all.

The Erie police, fire and street departments responded to the incident. They blocked off thearea and secured the manhole covers.

Several buildings, including Waldron Campus Center, Zurn Science Center and Palumbo Academic Center were evacuated. Marnen said this was a precaution in case the conduits under these buildings were affected.

Tricia Theiss, a freshman pre-med major, was one of the students evacuated from the Waldron. She said she was hanging out with friends in the Power Room, when they had heard a loud noise and saw a flash. Then John Coleman, the security corporal for Campus Police and Safety, came into the building and told everyone to leave by the doors near the Gannon arch.

“I think Gannon had good control of the situation,” Theiss said. “The text alerts were a little delayed, but they kept us informed.”

Marnen said he expects this to happen again, as it does periodically. It last happened four or five years ago, but it doesn’t always happen in this location.

Several buildings on campus, including Zurn, Palumbo, Walker Hall, Beyer hall, Old Main, the Nash Library, Wherle Hall and Morosky Academic Center, also lost power during the night of the incident from midnight to about 4:15 a.m. However, power returned the next morning, and students were able to attend class. Marnen said Police and Safety had plans to bring in a separate generator for breakfast, and move students from the residence halls that lost power into West Hall or the North Hall lobby, if it had been colder. However, the warm temperature required no heat and the power outage didn’t last until the morning, so these actions weren’t necessary.

Marnen said Gannon has contingency plans in place in case of various disasters.

TESSY PAWLOWSKI

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