Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Gas line repairs delayed for lack of repairers

Utility sends copter out for parts

By Terry Flynn and Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tonya Lindsay bundled up and stayed home waiting for repair crews.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        NEWPORT — A bottleneck has developed in the effort to repair and inspect people's gas appliances before their gas service can be restored.

        Cinergy officials said Monday they don't have enough parts or private contractors to repair all the water heaters, furnaces and stoves damaged when gas lines were deluged with water in Thursday's water main break. But reinforcements are on the way.

        Several hundred people who live in areas of restored gas service haven't gotten their heat and hot water back, even though their neighbors have. The reason: damage to their appliances.

        On Monday the gas utility dispatched aircraft and put out a multistate call for extra parts and manpower, said Dave Woodburn, a spokesman.

        Here are the numbers, as of 9 p.m. Monday:

        • About 3,000 natural gas customers are back on line.

        • Another 700 customers are still without gas.

        • Of those, 570 customers have damage to an appliance and are awaiting repairs.

        • Another 300 with water damage have had repairs and gas service restored.

        Cinergy still hopes to have most, if not all, of its Newport customers back on line by late Wednesday, Mr. Woodburn said. About 40 licensed independent heating/cooling contractors from Greater Cincinnati are working with Cinergy, but their numbers are dwindling with the cooler temperatures.

        “We have a bottleneck right now, because we could use many more private contractors than we have,” Mr. Woodburn said.

        “Some of the (local) contractors have had to go back to their regular service. We've made calls to neighboring cities like Louisville, Lexington, Dayton and Indianapolis. We have 25 out-of-town contractors coming in (today), and we'll put them up in a local hotel while they're here.”

        The other problem is a lack of parts to repair broken appliances. Mr. Woodburn said Cinergy could not find enough control valves, which work in gas appliance to regulate flow.

        Cinergy dispatched its helicopter to Chicago on Monday to pick up a shipment of 500 gas control valves. But because the load was too heavy for the chopper it was shipped by air express, to arrive today. The helicopter was diverted to Indianapolis, where it picked up 25 valves and delivered them to Cinergy's office in Florence.

        Meanwhile, Newport residents who have been without gas service since Thursday continue to cope with no heat and chilly weather.

        Some Tristate hotels, such as the Fairfield Inns in Florence and Sharonville, and Comfort Suites in Newport, are offering discounted rooms to people with proof of Newport residency.

        “A friend of ours rented a room at Comfort Suites Sunday night, and me and my old man took a shower,” said Tonya Lindsay, 33, of Ann Street. “Last Friday night and Saturday, we went to a friend's house in Fort Thomas to take a shower.”

        To make sure she didn't miss the Cinergy crews that might come to her home, Ms. Lindsay took Monday off work and camped out on her front porch. She was sipping coffee and bundled in layers of clothing.

        “It's not too bad, if you don't mind your hands feeling like Popsicles,” Ms. Lindsay said. “The ones I feel sorry for are the people with kids.”

        Across town, Decima Porter has moved her son and daughter into her bedroom, where all three doze in sleeping bags under layers of blankets that she heats each night in her dryer.

        She has been bathing her two young children at a friend's home. She has stuffed towels in some of her windows to keep the cold out, and she turns the oven on periodically to heat her drafty apartment.

        “We all have asthma, so I'm worried about how we're going to be affected by” the lack of heat, Ms. Porter said.

        Tom Rechtin Jr., of Tom Rechtin Heating Air Conditioning and Electric in Bellevue, said his company's nine service technicians have been so busy with the Newport outage and service calls to regular customers that “We can't handle anything else.”

        He said one of his technicians worked until 1 a.m. Sunday.

        Jeff Greis, service manager for Doc Rusk Heating & Air Conditioning in Covington, said his company had not even talked to Cinergy.

        “I know (Cinergy) has called a lot of the contractors in the area,” Mr. Greis said Monday. “But we've had our hands full just taking care of our own customers. Nonemergency work is booked back three days.”

        During the weekend, the American Red Cross opened a shelter at Newport High School. “Four people came in Sunday to use the showers, but nobody spent the night either night,” said Sean Townsley, spokesman for the Red Cross.

        At Brighton Center, workers put out a plea Monday for more blankets and sweat pants.

        “Someone brought in 30 blankets this morning, and they're already gone,” said Jennifer Griola, Brighton Center's family support coordinator. “They're going out as fast as we get them.”

        The social service agency, at 741 Central Ave. in Newport, also needs bread, lunch meat and cheese and any other food that doesn't need to be cooked. The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays to accept donations. For information, call (859) 491-8303, Ext. 2300.

        How to cope without natural gas

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