Evacuation lifted after gas leak in downtown Lapeer

Gas leaked into sewer lines, police say

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®, Derick Hutchinson

LAPEER, Mich. - The evacuation that turned downtown Lapeer into a ghost town because of a gasoline spill has been lifted, officials said.

A large chunk of the town was evacuated all day long after a loud explosion around 4:30 a.m. Police said gas leaked into the sewer lines and disrupted manholes.

The affected area stretched from the intersection of Saginaw and Nepessing streets west through the 400 block of West Nepessing Street.

The evacuation area in downtown Lapeer. (WDIV)

Wednesday was a long day for the largely volunteer fire department and business owners in the downtown area.

Even though the day started with a blast and left at least one manhole cover shattered to pieces, there was no further disaster, according to authorities.

Dozens of manhole covers needed to be placed back in their proper positions Wednesday afternoon. That was done long after the sewer line fumes dissipated, about 10 hours after the blast that shattered the early morning quiet, police said.

Lapeer florist Tom Benton didn't hear the explosion at his house, but a couple of the tenants above his shop filled him in.

"I did get an early morning text from them saying there were police and they had heard, were awoken by the explosion, which was about half a black from where they were sleeping," Benton said.

Lapeer firefighters moved in, along with state investigators. They immediately evacuated downtown businesses and homes.

City Manager Dale Kerbyson said gasoline fumes had spread far and wide.

"Some have strong gas odors, others do not," Kerbyson said. "Then they're right next door to a building that has a strong gas odor, so we're trying to keep people out of the area as best we can."

Firefighters respond to reports of a gas leak in downtown Lapeer on May 29, 2019. (WDIV)

While firefighters looked for dangerous fume levels, pumping crews moved in to draw gasoline from the sewer lines, including at a nearby Sunoco gas station. Officials aren't saying where the leak originated.

The problem started Tuesday. Benton said he shuttered his flower shop in the afternoon.

"The toxic fumes really affected people," Benton said. "Everyone had a headache and it was really pretty bad."

Benton called Consumer's Energy, but the company didn't find any natural gas and the odor apparently dissipated quickly.

Kerbyson said Consumer's Energy did its job. It's up to city and state officials now to move on with the cleanup, which could take days.

Downtown Lapeer was evacuated on May 29, 2019, due to a gas leak. (WDIV)

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