Streeterville hotel, restaurants evacuated by gas leak

April 7, 2011 3:19:58 PM PDT
A gas leak forced the evacuation of some buildings just east of the Magnificent Mile Thursday morning. Hundreds of people were affected.

Construction crews struck the gas main at Superior and St. Claire, triggering concern there could be a larger problem in the highly populated area near Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

No one was injured or became ill as a result of the gas leak. But the threat of fire in an area busy with shoppers, hospital patients, and tourists drew a massive response from the fire department.

It happened around 10 a.m. Thursday morning, shutting down several bustling blocks in this stretch of downtown.

"I'm pregnant, and I've walked eight blocks from the parking garage, and it's been taking me forever to get here," said Elizabeth Rocha.

Children's Memorial Hospital confirms a construction crew working on its new facility ruptured a gas main in front of the adjacent Affinia Hotel. There were more than 500 guests inside.

"The evacuation alarm started going off, just kept saying over and over again, 'Please evacuate the hotel and use the stairs.' So I got up, threw some clothes on, walked down the 20 flights of stairs," said evacuated hotel guest Michael Dellaca.

"We did smell a little gas at that point," said hotel guest Marty Pavlik. "But you know, everybody seemed very orderly, nobody overly concerned, no panic, for sure."

Pavlik and his dogs were left shivering on the street. The Homer Glen resident had been staying at the Affinia, waiting to take his newborn daughter home from nearby Northwestern Hospital.

"Everything is still in the room, and I'm just outside here walking our dogs trying to get back into the room and head home with our baby girl," said Pavlik.

Northwestern says no one inside its hospital buildings was evacuated.

Some restaurants and stores evacuated voluntarily, and gas was shut off to about eight or nine buildings.

"Peoples Gas was here in a great amount of time helping us out, city department of the environment, the police department, OEMC, all kind of worked together to stabilize the situation," said Chicago Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Eugene Ryan.

The leak was capped after about an hour and hotel guests were allowed back in around noon.

"Companies got on scene. They all carry monitors to look for gas leaks, identifying if there are any issues, and there weren't," said Ryan. "We were in all the different buildings in the surrounding area. There are no elevated readings, even though there was a significant leak inside the street."

By around 5 p.m., gas service was starting to be restored to the hotel and some nearby stores and restaurants. It was expected to take a couple hours before everyone is back on line.

Traffic in the area was mostly back to normal by Thursday evening's rush hour.