Alerts questioned in Alamo gas leak

The downtown area of Alamo is back to normal after a gas leak forced the evacuation of homes and businesses in the area for about five hours Wednesday.

Officials say gas started leaking when an East Bay Municipal Utility District crew working on a water line under Danville Boulevard severed an 1-1/2 inch gas line.

EBMUD spokesman Charles Hardy told SFBay the crew — which was using a backhoe to dig under the roadway — did not know the gas line was there because it wasn’t indicated on “markers” or maps indicating there was a PG&E gas line in the area.

Hardy says the information on the maps is critical to work crews especially when “you’re digging underground everyday.”

Once the gas started leaking people and homes and businesses the area — including the Alamo Plaza Shopping Center — were told to evacuate immediately.

Witnesses just outside the evacuation zone said a strong gas smell hung over the area as crews worked to repair the leak.

Downtown Alamo looked like a ghost town during the evacuation, while traffic came to a standstill on both ends of the evacuation area of Danville Boulevard.

Traffic on nearby Interstate 680 was jammed during the afternoon after the California Highway Patrol shut down freeway ramps in the area.

PG&E says the leak was capped around 3:30 p.m. though crews were still working on repairing the line.

Meanwhile, Contra Costa County officials are looking into what’s being described as a computer glitch that sent text alerts telling people that were a safe distance away from the leak to get out of the  area.

Eric Ahmadi — who works in a restaurant in Danville about three miles away from where the gas line ruptured — told NBC Bay Area that he received a text that said “evacuate now.”

Ahmadi told the station:

“The text message didn’t inform us at all. (It) just said ‘severe emergency get out of county.’”

Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace Andersen says the alert Ahmadi received in Danville was a mistake, likely created from a computer upgrade that sent the emergency message to a larger, further area.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated incident, PG&E crews responded to a gas leak in Oakland at 2:14 p .m. Wednesday that started when a minivan crashed into a home and hit a gas meter.

In that leak, the residents of several homes were evacuated as PG&E worked to cap the gas leak.