Natural gas leak prompts evacuation of several downtown Frankfort buildings

A natural gas leak Wednesday morning prompted the evacuation of several downtown Frankfort buildings, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton said.

The Franklin County courthouse and the courthouse annex were evacuated Wednesday morning and closed for the rest of the day, Melton said. A segment of St. Clair Street that had been closed was reopened by 5 p.m.; the 300 block of West Main Street reopened around 7:30 p.m.

Tom Russell, emergency management director for Franklin County, estimated that fewer than 100 people were evacuated.

The leak of a Columbia Gas line in front of the courthouse annex was reported about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Someone in the area smelled gas and alerted the utility, Columbia Gas spokeswoman Lisa Smith said. Columbia Gas employees responded and detected natural gas in the courthouse.

"Somebody did the right thing. They reported that odor of gas, and we got out there and found the leak," Smith said. "We were working to repair that line itself, and as part of that process, we usually go and test nearby structures to make sure there is no gas that has leaked inside those structures, but that is what they found."

Electricity was turned off in the area to prevent any ignition of gas, Melton said.

Pedestrian and vehicular traffic was being detoured from the area.

By late afternoon, readings detected no gas in the buildings, Smith said.