7:39 P.M. — The News-Press and news-press.com are following a Lee County gas line explosion on Colonial Boulevard near Treeline and State Road 82 involving a construction worker.
All of TECO?s 8,000 customers in Lee and Collier counties will be without gas for several days as the Tampa-based gas company begins the lengthy process of restoring service.
Company representatives will have to personally visit each customer to cut gas service, company spokesman Rick Morera said. And after they fix the break and return pressure to the lines, technicians must go to each home or business turn the gas valves on and re-ignite pilot lights. The law prohibits customers from igniting the lights themselves.
?This is going to be a difficult and lengthy repair,? Morera said. The company will prioritize hospitals and schools when it begins the restoring service and may bring in help from other companies in the state.
Region-wide service cuts are rare, Morera said, though the company had a similar service interruption in Jupiter in May when more than 10,000 customers lost service for several days.
No one has gas, according to Arturo Brawn, manager at Cantina Laredo off Big Pine Way in the Bell Tower Shoppes.
But, he?s still cooking his enchiladas.
?I still have a full restaurant because the majority of my equipment is electrical,? Brawn said. ?We have stoves and steamers that keep the food hot and we can still make any type of enchilada.?
He said he spoke to the city this evening and was told the issue with would be fixed by the end of the night.
Brawn said the restaurant will be closing at their normal time.
The only hiccup is he?s running out of corn tortillas and will be switching to flour ones soon and they can?t serve steaks because they cannot use the grill.
?I?m at the door asking people, ?where are you going?? we?re the only ones serving food,? Brawn said.
7:27 p.m. update
TECO has confirmed 8,000 customers this evening in Lee and Collier counties are without gas.
The company doesn?t know how long they?ll be without their supply. They have to assess the damage.
Those customers are commercial and residential, according to a TECO spokesperson.
Several restaurants at Bell Tower Shops are taking a hit in sales after their gas supply was cut.
Restaurants as far south as Bahama Breeze at U.S. 41 and Six Mile Cypress have reported gas outages.
Carrey Smith, a server at Taste of New York, said the impact on business there will be huge.
?All of our customers pretty much left,? Smith said.
The restaurant is still serving cold subs and salads.
Bistro 41 and Blue Pointe both confirmed their gas supply was out, but managers there declined to comment.
Arturo Braun, manager at Cantina Laredo, said the restaurant is managing with electric equipment.
?We?re still open, but we?re serving a limited menu,? he said.
6:49 p.m. update
The Fort Myers Police Department has identified the victim of this afternoon?s construction accident as Mario Santos, 30, of Bonita Springs.
The westbound lanes of Colonial Boulevard are expected to remain closed until midnight. The eastbound lane has reopened. Drivers are asked to avoid the area.
Fort Myers police suggest drivers take Gateway Boulevard or Daniels Parkway.
6:32 p.m. update
Several restaurants at the Bell Tower could not serve hot dishes tonight due to having their gas supply cut off by the explosion. Patrons are advised to call ahead to see when service will be restored.
6:01 p.m. update
After the fire broke out, passerbys in the Publix Plaza gathered to watch the flames.
Most scattered after a couple of hours.
Businesses in the area have not reported any impact as of 4 p.m.
Inside Publix, in the deli section, Nichole Shepherd, 19, of Lehigh Acres said the explosion sounded like a sonic boom that reverberated the walls.
?I didn?t know what it was,? Shepherd said. ?And it seemed like no one else heard it because it gets pretty loud back there.?
It did cause a box of cups to fall from a shelf right in front of one of her co-workers.
Ken Bennett, fire marshal for the Lehigh
Acres Fire District, said that the best way to address a gas fire was to turn off the gas and let it burn out.
Authorities earlier in the afternoon did just that.
?Believe it or not, unless there?s a hazard nearby that forces you to put it out right away, that?s the safest thing to do,? Bennett said. ?It eventually dies down, once there?s no gas, but in the mean time it?s under a lot of pressure.?
Bennett said it usually takes the flames at least an hour to die down and burn up the fuel.
4:53 p.m. update
The severely injured construction worker jumped from the bulldozer, according to Fort Myers police.
4:45 p.m. update
The eastbound lanes of Colonial Boulevard have reopened. The westbound lanes remain closed.
The seriously injured construction worker is being taken from Lee Memorial to a hospital in Tampa.
4:19 p.m. update
TECO Peoples Gas reports at this time approximately 300 residential and 50 commercial customers are without service. TECO has approximately 3,500 customers in Lee County
Compressed natural gas (CNG) trailers, which will help stabilize pressure on the system, are en route.
3:57 p.m. update
Steve Byrne, a Fort Myers firefighter, said “it sounded like a jet engine. It was pretty intense. When we got there, it was roaring.”
The flames shot up 50 feet or higher when it was burning, he said.
Firefighters were pumping water from a hydrant at the CVS store down the street to a fire truck, which then used the water to help extinguish the blaze.
3:22 p.m. update
Capt. Chris Bevan of the Fort Myers Fire Department said the gas was shut down about 30-60 minutes ago. Now, the fire department is spraying the backhoe with water to make sure everything is out.
Also, the worker who was injured suffered burns to over 50 percent of his body, Bevan said.
3:41 p.m. update
Fort Myers police say a second victim, also a Posen construction worker, was treated and released on scene with minor injuries.
3:22 p.m. update
TECO Peoples Gas reports that the pipeline break has been contained.
As soon as access can be gained, construction of a bypass around the break will be attempted.
A small number of customers are out of service at this time.
Posen Construction is required to contact OSHA to investigate the fire.
3:04 p.m. update
The injured worker is in critical condition at Lee Memorial Hospital.
Fort Myers police are waiting to notify the construction worker?s family before releasing his identity.
Flames aren’t visible anymore as the fire appears to have been almost completely extinguished. Thick black smoke continues to pour out of the ground where the explosion occurred.
3:02 p.m. update
Lee County transportation director Paul Wingard said Posen employees were mixing stone into the dirt – a vital step in stabilizing the soil below the roadbed.
“There must have been a gas line close to the surface,” Wingard said.
This is not the first accident on the site for Posen.
Posen employee Tom Maines, 58, was injured on the same site in late June after a piece of a crane boom fell on him. Crews were working on the boom on the south side of Colonial Boulevard near the Home Depot, county officials had said.
Lee County hired Posen in March 2009 on a $16.7 million contract to widen the road between Interstate 75 and State Road 82. The company is also widening Summerlin Road as part of a $25.1 million contract with the county.
The Summerlin project is 10 months behind and millions of dollars over budget after crews there were forced to rebuild an overpass and environmental regulators found asbestos chunks in the fill.
The injured construction worker was with Posen Construction, the main contractor on the widening of State Road 82.
Fort Myers police suggest drivers take Gateway Boulevard or Daniels Parkway since Colonial Boulevard is closed.
Russ Reed with FPL came out with another worker to look out for their feeder, which lies just west of the fire that continues spouting off billows of smoke and flames.
“It doesn’t look like it’ll affect it,” Reed said. “But, we’re going to watch it and make sure to keep everybody in service.”
If the wires burn down, it would directly affected the area locally, which includes the Publix plaza and CVS.
2:50 p.m. update
Kenny Winstead, a witness who was driving by, said he heard the explosion that sounded like a sonic boom.
“God help who was on it,” he said, referring to the backhoe that is completely engulfed in flames.
He said you could still hear hissing from the gas line.
2:47 p.m. update
At 1:46 p.m. today, the Fort Myers Police Department responded to a construction accident near the intersection of State Road 82 and Colonial Boulevard, according to the Fort Myers Police Department. Upon arrival police learned a construction worker on a bulldozer severed a natural gas line and caused an explosion. The construction worker was transported to Lee Memorial Hospital trauma alert. Right now Colonial Boulevard is shutdown between State Road 82 and Treeline Avenue.
The fire department also is on scene. Police expect the road to remain closed while repairs are made to the gas line.
Rick Morera, a spokesman for TECO, a Tampa utility, confirmed that construction equipment pierced an 8-inch gas main. The company doesn?t know how many customers will be affected by the explosion.
A Marine Corps veteran at the Blockbuster video store in the Crossroads Plaza at State Road 82 and Lee/Colonial Boulevard heard the explosion.
“It was like a Humvee blew up,” said Chance Hood, 36, who estimated the explosion occurred about 250 yards away. “We didn’t know what it was.”
Hood said the explosion shook the plaza.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is directing traffic. Traffic heading east toward Lehigh Acres is blocked at Colonial Boulevard.
2:26 p.m. update
Motorists are asked to avoid the area of State Road 82 and Colonial Boulevard because of a gas line explosion. Both directions of Colonial are closed starting at Treeline Boulevard. Both directions of State Road 82 are closed at Forum Boulevard and Gateway Boulevard. Both directions of Lee Boulevard are closed at State Road 82.
The Lee County Sheriff?s Office is now assisting the Fort Myers Police
Department with the investigation.
Reports of heavy equipment hitting a gas line, sparking a fire, have caused Colonial Boulevard to be closed at Treeline to SR 82 both directions. SR 82 is closed between Gateway Blvd and Forum Blvd both directions. The Fort Myers Police Department responding.
This is a developing story. Check back for more updates, photos and video.