Residents praise quick response to gas leak near Plaza

Just a half-mile from where a natural-gas explosion and fire leveled JJ’s restaurant, another gas leak threatened an upscale residential neighborhood near the Country Club Plaza over the weekend.

But this time the response was far different.

Residents were evacuated shortly after gas started leaking Saturday, fire trucks filled the area, and gas was quickly shut off. People returned to their homes near 50th and Central streets once the gas cleared in a few hours.

Officials wouldn’t say whether the response was different because of the blast that destroyed JJ’s on Feb. 19, but residents largely praised the way emergency workers handled Saturday’s leak.

The Kansas City Fire Department, which has been criticized for withdrawing a unit from JJ’s before the explosion that killed one person and injured 15, roared in Saturday and jammed the block with trucks and equipment.

“It was hectic around here,” resident Barbara Messner said.

People in the neighborhood just south of the Country Club Plaza said that while the situation ended well Saturday, there were still some stumbles and tense moments as the strong smell of natural gas wafted over the area.

Messner was out walking her dog when she noticed the odor of natural gas. She rushed home to collect her son and leave but initially was told to stay inside. Then a couple of minutes later a Missouri Gas Energy employee told her she needed to leave.

“After JJ’s we weren’t going to stick around,” she said.

The incident was reported shortly after 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

It started when a subcontractor using horizontal boring machinery for Google Fiber damaged a gas line, Google said.

“We’re sorry for any inconvenience and worry this may have caused,” Google said in an emailed statement.

According to records provided by Missouri One Call, which workers contact to have underground lines marked before they dig, West Shore Group of Olathe requested markings in the area where the leak occurred. The request states the work was for Google.

West Shore Group did not respond Sunday to a call for comment.

Heartland Midwest, which is also based in Olathe, was doing horizontal boring for Time Warner Cable near JJ’s before the explosion destroyed the restaurant.

On Saturday, traffic was blocked and ATA buses parked nearby to give evacuated residents shelter from the cold. Firefighters and Missouri Gas Energy workers worked into the evening. By 7:30 p.m., the evacuation had ended and fire crews were gone, but MGE workers remained in the neighborhood while the gas smell lingered.

When it was safe for residents to return, utility employees relighted Messner’s furnace, since the flow of gas to the area had been cut to stop the leak.

“Everything turned out all right,” said Jason Fulp, a spokesman for Missouri Gas Energy.