SMC Evacuates After Power Outage, Suspected Gas Leak

UPDATED: Two buildings at the main Santa Monica College campus self-evacuate after what first believed to be a natural gas leak, and a power outage less than 20 minutes later. Big Blue Bus reports accidental release of smelly chemical.

Updated at 3:55 p.m. with new information from the Big Blue Bus.

The smell of rotten eggs wafting over parts of Santa Monica Monday afternoon was a scented chemical accidentally released from the city's Big Blue Bus.

The transit agency's spokeswoman said a teaspoon of non-toxic Mercaptan was inadvertently released into the air about 12:45 p.m. by a Big Blue Bus subcontractor while handling equipment at the bus yard.

Natural gas is odorless, so sulfur is added to it to help technicians detect leaks. The additive is harmless, spokeswoman Linda Gamberg said.

Gamberg initially said such releases were common, but later learned they "are actually very few and far between."

"It was immediately shut down," she said, adding that it would, unfortunately, take some time dissipate.

Drescher Hall and the admissions building at Santa Monica College self-evacuated about 30 minutes after the release. The administration building farther east on Pico Boulevard also self-evacuated. Campus officials initially believed there was a natural gas leak, said spokesman Bruce Smith.

About the same time, the college lost power due to a Southern California Edison outage impacting 1,261 customers in area bounded by 14th Street, Commonwealth, Lincoln Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, according to spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said the utility company was still investigating the cause of the outage, which was first reported at 1:03 p.m.

Though power was turned back on for most as of 4:02 p.m., there were still 80 customers in the dark into the early evening hours.

"Our crews are still looking to figure out what the problem was," Rodriguez said at 5 p.m.

The college was able to turn its back-up generators on, Smith said.

"Crap. Lights are off & it smells like gas in class. I'm not that worried, but tell my family I love them just in case," a student Tweeted about 1:15 p.m.

As of 2:30 p.m., the Southern California Gas Co. had not received any reports of a gas leak.

"The Big Blue Bus always takes precautions to contain any type of supplies and operations from impacting our neighbors and deeply regrets the inconvenience and concern caused by the release that occurred today," Suja Lowenthal, government and community relations manager for the Big Blue Bus, said in a statement.

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Brettney Perr September 17, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Thanks for posting this and getting the updates!
Matthew Qoomz September 18, 2012 at 12:42 AM
I still have no power! I'm tryna play madden!
Jorge Gamero September 19, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Dont worry guys, it was nothing. I almost got outta class too...lolz.
Isabel Storey September 19, 2012 at 01:40 AM
I live near Santa Monica College and smelled gas too. But I looked around my house and didn't find anything suspicious. Glad to know this is probably what it was.


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