Update: ‘All Clear’ Given After Gas Smell Leads to Evacuation of Downtown Buildings

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The city fire department gave the “all clear” shortly after 3:30 p.m. for people to return downtown after several downtown businesses and government buildings were evacuated due to a natural gas odor was detected.

“Enbridge has scoped buildings in the evacuated area and has found no gas readings,” Stephanie Moore, a spokeswoman for Enbridge, the gas company, said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The source of the odor remains under investigation.”

The area evacuated includes Mahoning County buildings.

“Out of precaution, the county administration building, Mahoning County Courthouse and many other buildings downtown have been evacuated due to reports of the smell of gas,” Megan Magnetta, executive director of media relations for the Mahoning County commissioners, said in an email.

The federal courthouse at Front Street and Wick Avenue and Youngstown State University also were evacuated.

About 3:30 p.m., YSU issued a second Penguin Alert to campus, informing about the all-clear.

“Following today’s campus evacuation due to a gas leak downtown, an all-clear has been given from the Youngstown Fire Department and all faculty, staff and students are now free to return to campus,” it read. “Campus will remain closed for business for the remainder of the day. Regular operations will resume tomorrow.”

Michael Stepp, strategic communications officer at the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, confirmed that the main branch downtown was evacuated and closed about 1:30 p.m.

“It was upon advice of Dominion Energy,” he said.

Downtown Youngstown Natural Gas Evacutation 6-14-24
Children from Students Motivated by the Arts, guided by staff, walk to the Covelli Centre where people began gathering.

The call center, where people call to be directed to a particular branch or department, also closed as it is housed downtown. All other branches remain open, and the main branch is expected to reopen for its regular Saturday hours.

Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, standing with city police officers and firefighters outside International Towers, confirmed that City Hall was evacuated but said he didn’t know the cause of the evacuation or if it was a false alarm.

One man, exiting the Huntington Bank office building with his work items on a rolling carrier, said they, too, were told to evacuate.

After closing and exiting his business, Youngstown Kicks, located inside the parking garage at 23 W. Boardman St., Andrew Murphy began helping residents exiting the garage by directing them out and asking if they needed assistance.

“Everybody who works in City Hall parks here, so we want to get them out and make sure nobody is straggling,” he said. “That way, they can get out safely and we can get these doors closed and everything inside the garage secure.”

When asked why Murphy began directing traffic, he said, “Every little bit of help helps.”

Downtown Youngstown Natural Gas Evacutation 6-14-24
Andrew Murphy, owner of Youngstown Kicks, talks on the phone while workers from City Hall exit the building.

The Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s Tyler History Center was evacuated shortly after noon when people said they could smell gas, said Bill Lawson, MVHS’ executive director. “We decided to close and send staff home by 12:30 p.m.,” he said.

The Arms Museum on Wick Avenue, north of the YSU campus, was set to close following the conclusion of a program that was taking place, he said.

“Most downtown buildings were being evacuated because of the gas smell, Ellie Platt said. Platt is board chairwoman of Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, which is on Central Square downtown.

The Covelli Centre opened its doors for people who were displaced by the evacuations.

Tracey Biery, box office manager at the Covelli Centre, said she detected the gas smell when she was over by the main Youngstown fire station and the Kedplasma blood donation center, and it got worse as she headed back east.

“When I got her to the Covelli Centre and parked it was overwhelming,” she said.

She then called Robert Underwood, operations manager. 

“As soon as I opened the door I smelled it ,” he said.

Brian Lytle, security services manager, said he received a call from Jordan Ryan, vice president of JAC Management Group, which operates the Covelli Centre, ordering him to evacuate people from the adjacent Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, where preparations were underway by volunteers for this weekend’s Simply Slavic event. 

The festival was relocated from its planned location near Central Square because of the May 28 natural gas explosion that devastated the Realty Tower and a section of East Federal Street.

About 75 volunteers were on site when the evacuation order came, Dave Slanina, one of the festival’s organizers, said. Just a handful showed up at the arena, with the rest apparently scattering.

A JAC security staffer informed the Simply Slavic volunteers about the “potential gas leak at the courthouse” and informed them they needed to evacuate to the Covelli Centre, Dana Lariccia, one of the volunteers, said.

Smarts Community Art School, located in the Ohio One Building, 25 E. Boardman St., brought over students who were attending its first week of summer public programming, Sarah Gabrick, assistant director, said.

“The safety of our students is our highest priority, and with everything that’s been going on, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Gabrick said.

The children enjoyed the stroll.

“They like taking a nice walk outside, so it’s a good little afternoon adventure for us,” she added.

Pictured at top: A Youngstown firetruck sits in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Youngstown and across from the Mahoning County Courthouse, both of which were evacuated Friday afternoon, along with many other buildings downtown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.