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Firefighters: Lag in reporting Petersburg gas leak is ‘absolutely concerning’

PETERSBURG, Va. – Multiple sources said the contractor who hit a gas line in Petersburg Wednesday morning called Columbia Gas first before calling 911.

Natural gas leaking from a ruptured pipe along High Street at 9:40 a.m. could be heard from two blocks away, but fire officials said the gas was flowing for about 15 minutes before it was reported.

"The first call went to the gas company and nobody ever called 911 until 9:56," Petersburg Fire Department Battalion Chief Braden Peter said. “The lag was 20 minutes between the time the line was struck and the time the first fire unit arrived on High Street."

Firefighters tell residents to evacuate on High Street.

Firefighters tell residents to evacuate on High Street.

Fire officials called the delay a serious issue and said they should have been notified as soon as the line was broken.

“[It’s] absolutely concerning, because when we arrived on location we immediately started evacuating due to the wind conditions and due to the amount of gas that was being discharged from the line,” that official said.

Crews arrived on the scene at 10 a.m.

"I've been working out in the yard and I noticed a smell," said Bobbi Kennedy, who lives nearby.

Some people who were at home when the rupture happened said the first call crews made should have been to 911.

"I think it should be the fire department, police and fire department, so they can take control and get everything going for the area that is affected," Kennedy said.

Sharon Simburke, who was inside her home when the gas line was cut, said she feels she should have been told sooner.

“Yes, absolutely, they knew we were in there, too," Simburke said.

The contractor said the reason for the delay was that his crew believed Columbia Gas would call 911.

Columbia Gas officials plan to work with the contractor to retrain crews to always call 911 first before calling the company.

An investigation is also underway to see if the gas line was mismarked or marked in the wrong location.