Westlake District gas leak, underground explosion prompts evacuations

WESTLAKE DISTRICT, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A gas leak and underground explosion prompted evacuations in the Westlake District area of Los Angeles Friday night.

For more than four hours, flames of about 1 inch were shooting through a sidewalk as firefighters worked to contain the scene.

A 44-unit building with approximately 100 people was immediately evacuated after a natural gas leak was confirmed in a subterranean utility vault near West 7th Street and Westlake Avenue, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said.

"The firefighters at the station actually felt an explosion. We responded. When we arrived on scene, we saw flames coming out of the ground...," said LAFD Assistant Chief Antoine McKnight.

A video posted to YouTube by 11-year-old Star Segundo showed residents evacuating a building with the help of firefighters.

"The firefighters were knocking on our door and telling us to get out, and they didn't even let us take our things, they just told us to run out," Segundo recalled. "I was scared I was going to die."

LAFD hazmat experts were working closely with the Southern California Gas Company to determine the source and soil boundaries of the flammable gas, officials said.

There were no reports of injuries or structure damage.

As a precaution, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power turned off electricity in the immediate area, including at two apartment buildings totaling 72 units.

Just over 100 people were formally evacuated. Buses were secured at an assembly point at 660 S. Alvarado Street, where 62 evacuees were taken to an American Red Cross shelter established at the Lafayette Recreation Center, located at 625 S. Lafayette Park Place, fire officials said.

Westlake Avenue between 7th Street and 8th Street, as well as both 7th Street and 8th Street between Alvarado Street and Bonnie Brae Street were closed until LAFD operations were complete, fire officials said. It was unclear how long the operation would last.
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