NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — A gas leak at the site of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s emergency room expansion caused a road closure and the evacuation of a school Thurday in New Brunswick, according to a city official and sources.
The gas leak was noticed some time after 1:30 p.m., city spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw said. It shut down Somerset Street to pedestrians and motorists in the area near the hospital. Some people standing on the sidewalk said the incident prevented them from getting to their cars and medical appointments.
Utility workers have since plugged the leak, Bradshaw said. The road reopened and emergency responders left the scene around 3:05 p.m., more than an hour after it was first shuttered.
“Repairs are still being handled, but the leak has stopped,” she said.
New Brunswick’s public school district evacuated the nearby Lincoln Annex School for “safety’s sake,” Bradshaw said. Students there moved over to Lincoln Elementary School, several blocks away, on Bartlett Street, she said.
Reports of other buildings being evacuated emerged shortly after the gas leak. How many buildings were affected is unclear.
Robert Wood Johnson’s emergency room and hospital were not evacuated, spokesperson Peter Haigney said. But visitors weren’t permitted into the restricted area for about two hours, until the all-clear was given, he said.
Around 2:40 p.m., two vans owned by the utility company Public Service Enterprise Group (PSE&G) were spotted leaving Easton Avenue. A few minutes later, two PSE&G workers declined to comment on the matter.
Dean Muzikar, a spokesperson for the utility, said a contractor doing excavation work “struck and damaged a gas line” under the ambulance entrance ramp near the hospital’s emergency room.
“PSE&G responded to the scene and made it safe,” he said. “The cause of the damage is under investigation.”
Marie Russo, a Sayreville resident, said she took her boyfriend to Robert Wood Johnson’s emergency department shortly before the leak. She stepped out for 15 minutes to get a cup of coffee from a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts and was not allowed back into the hospital.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I’m very hot and very tired.”
Russo said two doctors were also stuck outside for a period of time. They walked down Easton Avenue toward Little Albany Street, heading toward another entrance, and didn’t return, she said.
Several other people said they couldn’t access the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey for their appointments.
An Uber driver, Ian Jones, arrived outside the emergency room to pick up a passenger when he was ushered away, he said. He said he waited at the corner of Somerset Street and Easton Avenue for more than hour, unable to reach his vehicle parked in front of the building.
“Maybe I’ll get five stars for waiting,” he said.
A family that ate lunch at Efes Mediterranean Grill couldn’t reach their car, which was parked down Somerset Street, they said.
Rutgers police officers directed traffic at the intersection of Somerset Street and Easton Avenue. New Brunswick cops did the same at Easton’s intersection with Little Albany Street, an area police have guarded since the hospital’s emergency room expansion began in March.
TAPinto New Brunswick will update this story as more information becomes available.