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Residents return to downtown Fort Worth apartments after gas leak, overnight evacuation

October 27,2021

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Jessika Harkay here.

Dozens of downtown residents at The Tower made their way back to their homes Wednesday morning after being forced to evacuate the premises because of a gas leak the day before.

The Tower, located at 500 Taylor St., was one of many buildings within a two-block perimeter between 5th and Taylor that closed its doors as firefighters and Atmos gas employees worked to fix the leak caused by a construction accident that ruptured a pipe underground.

Shellie Lindley, a resident at the building for almost two years, said she and her husband were at work when they were notified around 3 p.m. Tuesday to evacuate the building. Soon, they would learn, they wouldn’t be returning to their condo for the night.

“We never had the opportunity to go back, and other people could not go back there,” Lindley said. “Lucky for us, we were able to stay with some accommodating friends, and my cat is still speaking to me. … I was worried [about my cat], but it was less than 24 hours. I did have a concern for those that perhaps had dogs or medicine and didn’t have the opportunity to retrieve anything.”

Meanwhile other residents were inside their condos when the gas line was struck. Chloe Keen, who’s lived in the building since 2018, was in her 24th-floor apartment when she began hearing alarms go off.

They said it wasn’t a drill and we had to evacuate, and we got out,” she said. “As soon as the alarms went off, we had to use the stairs, not the elevator. So, I grabbed handfuls of things and was like, ‘Oh, no.’”

Both women recalled the building flooding earlier in the year after a sprinkler system malfunctioned, which caused an evacuation and damage to multiple floors, but said its management has always handled damages professionally. The building has 298 units, according to its website.

“Bad things have happened, but it doesn’t outweigh the good things,” Keen said.

“[Some things] are unavoidable,” Lindley added. “They had no control over it.”

Businesses in the area were also impacted by the leak. Brandon Littlepage, manager of the Potbelly sandwich shop on Throckmorton, in the area that was evacuated, said his team was in the middle of preparing a catering order to feed 160 people when they were told to evacuate.

“There was a little worry there about what we were going to do,” Littlepage said. “Obviously safety was the first priority and that came second. There was some worry about it, though.”

Littlepage said he was able to reach out to other Potbellys in the area to get help fulfilling the catering order but was unable to fulfill other orders for Wednesday morning. When they were allowed to reopen Wednesday, though, Littlepage said the store had a crush of customers coming in for lunch.

“We saw sort of a reverse effect from what we thought,” Littlepage said. “There were some other businesses in the area still closed today so that made us one of the only ones open for lunch at the moment.”

Employees had to leave their cars in the garage provided for their parking overnight, but Littlepage said his employees were able to get home by calling family and friends or using public transportation or an Uber.

The Fort Worth Fire Department’s Hazmat team was on scene Tuesday afternoon. Within an hour or so of responding to the area, residents and visitors at The Tower were taken to Sundance Square and firefighters used social media accounts to ask everyone to avoid the area completely.

Celina Cardenas, Atmos Energy spokeswoman, said in an email Tuesday evening that a construction crew was doing work unrelated to Atmos Energy and damaged a natural gas pipeline. Technicians were sent out to the scene to help make necessary repairs, she said.

First responders were able to stop the leak around 7:45 p.m., but due to high levels of gas inside the building, no one was allowed to return for the night.

The Tower helped accommodate hotel arrangements with discounted rates for residents, as the American Red Cross offered a shelter at a nearby church. Although the Red Cross “provided assistance to one family,” a spokesperson said that the organization had no residents at its shelter Tuesday night and “everyone else found alternative lodging.”

Around 10 a.m. Wednesday, fire officials cleared the area and residents were able to return home. Downstairs, most restaurants including Salsa Limon and Mercury Chophouse remained closed into the afternoon as others, like Potbelly, opened just in time for lunch.


Locations Mentioned: Potbelly Sandwich Shop, The Tower