CATTARAUGUS - Three North Main Street families were forced from their homes when a three-inch gas main was accidentally broken by a state Department of Public Works crew around 1:30 p.m. April 12.
"It sounded like Niagara Falls when it went," said Tammy Fernandes, who, when she heard the sudden roar of escaping gas just outside her house, grabbed her 11-month-old baby, her 3-year-old son and her dog and headed toward the village business district, a few hundred yards away. Two neighboring families, the Steffys and the Kurses joined her there, where they waited for their school-age children to be delivered by school bus.
The break occurred when state workmen accidentally hit the gas main while in the process of digging up a drain line. They immediately contacted National Fuel, which, in turn dispatched a repair crew to the scene.
Eight children, one dog and a smattering of adults settle in around the old railroad signal box after fleeing their homes just up the street. Their sudden departure was occasioned by an accidental rupture in a pressurized three-inch gas main. The pipe was eventually repaired without incident and the accident fortunately caused no property damage or injuries.
Photo by Arvilla Pritchard
Meanwhile, first responders from the Cattaraugus Fire Department rushed into action, setting up roadblocks to divert Route 353 traffic around the danger zone by way of Jefferson and Leavenworth streets. A sheriff's patrol from Little Valley arrived on scene, and later, truck detours were set up for non-local traffic through Mosher Hollow and New Albion.
Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School was notified, and Dispatcher Cindy King went to work improvising several bus route changes. She also arranged to have one bus drop off the children who lived in the evacuated homes, at the site where the displaced families had congregated, on the corner of Jefferson and North Main.
As the afternoon wore on, it became apparent that repairs might extend into the evening, so fire personnel called for another school bus to pick up all three families and take them to the firemen's club. There, members of the Women's Unit served them pizza, beverages and cookies, even rounding up some coloring books and crayons for the youngsters.
By this time, Mrs. Fernandes realized she had rushed from her home without bringing along any of her baby's bottles or formula, so women's unit member Anna Mallaber drove her back to the site, where her husband was still watching and waiting. He was allowed to return to the home and get the baby's food.
The day ended peacefully enough, when repairs on the gas line were eventually completed around 7 p.m. By that time, the families had contacted friends who came to the firemen's club and delivered them safely home. Mrs. Fernandez said she wanted to thank the members of the fire department and the women's unit who had been so kind to them all.
"They helped us out so much when we needed it," she said.