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Gas leak closes city’s downtown

A Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office cruiser blocks off West Federal Street Friday afternoon after the smell of gas was reported. By 1 p.m., the courthouse, Mahoning County Administration Building, Youngstown City Hall and Youngstown Police Department had been evacuated. Youngstown State University, the Wells Building, U.S. Seventh District Court of Appeals and several other downtown buildings soon followed suit.

YOUNGSTOWN — Downtown was largely evacuated Friday afternoon after the smell of natural gas was reported in several areas.

The incident comes a little over two weeks after a gas leak led to a deadly explosion at Realty Tower that killed one man and seriously injured several others. Residents of International Towers, next door, had until noon Friday to evacuate the premises because of ongoing concerns about the stability of the Realty building.

Just after noon, workers at several downtown buildings reported an odor of gas. By 1 p.m., the Mahoning County Courthouse, Mahoning County Administration Building, Youngstown City Hall and Youngstown Police Department had been evacuated, and the Youngstown Fire Department was on scene.

Youngstown State University, the Wells Building, U.S. Seventh District Court of Appeals, and several other downtown buildings soon followed suit, and first responders blocked off multiple streets, clearing the downtown area for a two-block radius in every direction from the George V. Voinovich Government Building on West Federal Street. The perimeter along Federal Street was extended from Vindicator Square to Fifth Avenue.

Reports of gas odors came from as far as the Pepsi distribution center on Marshall Street and KED Plasma on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Youngstown City School District closed the Choffin Career and Technical Center and Youngstown Rayen Early College buildings.

Capt. Jason Simon of Youngstown Police Department said Enbridge Ohio Gas (formerly Dominion East Ohio) searched the area and located a leak below the street outside the Mahoning County Children Services Building, 222 W. Federal Street.

Simon said Enbridge gave the all-clear.

The Simply Slavic festival scheduled to begin Friday kicked off without a problem, he said.

Simon said the emergency response was exactly what it should have been.

“Even in light of the recent accident over at Realty Tower, this would have caused the same response no matter what,” he said. “The smell had permeated so many buildings downtown that the problem appeared to be widespread, so we had to take the largest precaution we could because no one knew where it was coming from.”

Simon said situations like these sometimes are not taken seriously enough.

“People maybe think that the smell of gas will go away or they’ll just call the gas company to check it out, but the incident at Realty Tower I think gave us all a different perspective on how quickly the smell of gas can turn into a tragedy,” he said.

Simon praised first responders and city and county officials for their handling of the incident.

“City Hall administrators did an amazing job of helping us get everyone out of our buildings and making sure city personnel were safe. The sheriff’s deputies, of course, did a great job, and YFD was downtown the whole time giving updates and keeping communication open, and Dominion showed up pretty quickly,” he said. “Everyone worked pretty seamlessly together to keep information flowing and allow us to make informed decisions about how to proceed.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Dan Pompili by email at dpompili@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.

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