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Hill Life & People

Natural gas leak temporarily shuts down some Parliamentary Precinct buildings

By Rachel Aiello      

At least four buildings in the Parliamentary Precinct, including the Prime Minister's Office, were temporarily evacuated Tuesday afternoon after a construction crew working on the light rail system hit a gas line on Queen Street. The massive gas leak, which sounded like a giant and loud hissing noise, also forced the evacuation of about four blocks of downtown Ottawa between Bank and Elgin streets and between Wellington to Albert streets.

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PARLIAMENT HILL—At least four buildings in the Parliamentary Precinct, including the Prime Minister’s Office, were temporarily evacuated Tuesday afternoon after a construction crew working on the light rail system hit a gas line on Queen Street. The massive gas leak, which sounded like a giant and loud hissing noise, also forced the evacuation of about four blocks of downtown Ottawa between Bank and Elgin streets and between Wellington to Albert streets.

Many MPs’ offices, House and Senate committee meeting rooms, government offices, the Liberal, Conservative, and New Democrat research bureaus, and multiple Hill news bureaus were evacuated from about 1:30 p.m. EST until about 4:30 p.m. The Parliament Buildings on the north side of Wellington Street remained open and MPs continued to work.

But just across the street it was a different story for about three hours.

House and Senate committee meetings that were supposed to be held in the Wellington Building and the Victoria Building were also cancelled.

The evacuation was the result of a roaring gas leak caused when a gas main was struck during light rail construction. The smell of the gas was detectable throughout the downtown core well outside the evacuation zone.

Among those evacuated were Summa Strategies’ senior adviser Michele Austin and consultants Lindsay Doyle and Katlyn Harrison. Reached by phone from their makeshift office—a conference room at the Chateau Laurier which one of their clients had rented—they said they heard an initial boom and didn’t think much of it since there has been ongoing controlled explosions at the condo development site next door to their offices located above the Bridgehead at the corner of Sparks and Metcalfe streets. But then the smell began to waft in and they could hear a hissing noise.

“It was only until we started getting a little nauseous, quite frankly, that we realized the smell that was in the office was not our male colleagues, but in fact, natural gas,” Ms. Doyle joked.

At that point, the building hadn’t been evacuated but from their windows they could see the fire crews and other emergency personnel, so they quickly picked up their things and left.

“We weren’t sure what the situation was, and so everybody has bits and pieces [of their belongings]. I fortunately had my charger and I’m the mom, I have everything in my purse, so I have chargers and cords, and we found a place and now we’re just working,” said Ms. Austin.

The Parliamentary Press Gallery staff located in the National Press Building which was also affected, notified fellow gallery members that there would be a “significant delay” in issuing “the blues,” the transcripts from the daily Question Period. “You will receive the Blues as soon as they are available,” the email from gallery staff wrote.

Jeff Jedras, a staffer to Liberal MP Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre, Ont.), told The Hill Times that he was on the phone when security personnel came into the Wellington Building to notify people to evacuate the building. The Wellington Building, home to a number of MPs’ offices and House committee rooms, was later evacuated. Mr. Jedras said many staffers from other nearby offices who had come by to hang out subsequently filed out onto Wellington Street and took parliamentary shuttle buses up to Centre Block where they gathered in the cafeteria. Around 5:30 p.m. Mr. Jedras tweeted that the “all clear” was given to re-enter the building.

The Chicken Farmers of Canada, meanwhile, had to cancel its “tailgate party” in the Sir John A. Macdonald Building on Tuesday night located at the corner of Wellington and O’Connor streets.

The Hill Times 

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