03 Jan Shirley gas leak – a story to remember
After so many years in the business, I don’t often save “clips” anymore. But this is a story of which I am particularly proud to have covered.
On the morning of New Year’s Day, my wife nudged me awake: “Carl, I think you need get up. There’s a gas leak and there’s going to be a press conference at William Floyd” – the high school not three minutes from my home.
I called Newsday’s Long Island Desk to see if there was anything I could do to help. Turned out, with the combination of it being a Saturday and a national holiday, few people were available to get to the scene quickly.
I got to the high school just before local and county officials began what would be the first in a number of updates for about 150 residents from the 900 homes and businesses that were evacuated after a propane tank behind the Kohl’s department store in Shirley started leaking thousands of gallons of gas from a cracked plastic valve.
The tank was still leaking, and no one was sure when it would be fixed, how long people would be kept out of their homes or exactly how serious the situation was. If ignited, could it level the area?
More: Newsday’s coverage
While many were able to find other accommodations, the people at this makeshift Red Cross evacuation center — tired, confused and concerned — had nowhere else to turn.
I wound up staying at the center for 10 hours, all the while sending phone and email dispatches, as well as photos from my little Canon Elph. And tweeting, of course. News crews from around the region descended on the center, and Newsday staffers were soon going after every angle.
By mid-afternoon, I was quickly able to recite the stories of many evacuees.
When updates from officials went dry, I went hunting for information at locations across the area. I got turned away at the entrance of the emergency disaster headquarters set up at Brookhaven Calabro Airport, until another official I had been in touch with throughout the day called to let me know the “hot zone” had been deemed safe and people were about to be informed that they would soon be let back into their homes.
I got back to the evacuation center, now the only journalist at the scene, just in time to see a police captain to inform the crowd of the good news. They all erupted in cheers.
It’s a sight I won’t forget anytime soon.