Schoharie County gas leak prompts evacuations, memories of 1990 tragedy

BROOME, N.Y. — An active propane leak sparked evacuations Friday in Schoharie County, bringing back memories of a tragedy two decades ago.

Back on March 13, 1990, two people were killed and numerous houses were destroyed in the explosion that rocked the Village of Blenheim.

Only miles away, people in the Town of Broome avoided the same disaster Friday. Updated safety features on the pipeline could be the reason why.

The gas leak, first reported as an explosion, put Middleburgh firefighters on high alert; events eerily similar to the Blenheim incident, which involved the same underground pipeline.

Schoharie County PIO Karen Miller explained, “We received a phone call that there had been a propane gas explosion in the area of Broome Center (Road).”

No explosion was ever confirmed, only a leak. Still, firefighters wasted no time evacuating dozens of homes along Guinea and Keyserkill Roads and turning drivers around.

Others passed the time with snacks and coffee at a warming station at the Blenheim Fire House.

“We just chose to wait until whatever it is gets resolved,” resident Catherine Hanu told NEWS10.

“We were just there getting dinner ready and a fireman came to the door and just said you have to be evacuated immediately, there's a gas leak,” recalled Jeanne Slone.

Slone lives off of Keyserkill Road on Campbell Road. Campbell was one of the roads closed while authorities investigated the leak.

Ironically, the warming station sits in the very spot of the 1990 gas explosion. The fire house is named after Blenheim's then-Assistant Fire Chief Robert Hitchcock, one of the two people killed that day.

Current Assistant Fire Chief Robert Mann recalled the events on that day in 1990.

“There was about 17 homes that were destroyed, we lost our Assistant Fire Chief and just a motorist that was traveling through also lost his life, and that was extremely devastating,” Mann told NEWS10.

Since then, the owners of the pipeline, Texas Eastern Gas Company, installed more safety valves. Friday, workers closed valves in Westerlo and Blenheim, on either side of the leak, before any damage could be done.

“I don't want people to be overly alarmed at this point,” Miller cautioned late Friday afternoon. “Things seem to be somewhat under control.”

Texas Eastern is investigating the cause and trying to verify how much gas leaked.

Evacuees are grateful first responders played it safe.

“They were very quick, they just told it like it was, and got everybody out fast.”

Some residents were allowed back into their homes Friday night, but a handful of families were not because of concerns about fumes in the air. The Red Cross put those families up in hotels for the night.

They should be able to go home by sunday.

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