Del Norte gas leak a test of emergency preparedness

DEL NORTE - At the last neighborhood watch meeting, Rio Grande County’s emergency manager Nicolle Rosecrans shared about the emergency response to the natural gas leak that recently happened in the town of Del Norte. At about 2 a.m. on Dec 14 there was a break in the natural gas line in one of the regulators and one of the backup regulators in the town of Del Norte. An estimated 800 people were left without natural gas service which meant they had no heat or hot water.
Throughout this emergency the community pulled together to take care of one another. A warming shelter was opened in the Del Norte high school library. Businesses like the Windsor Hotel and the Mellow Moon Lodge were forced to cancel holiday parties but opened their doors for people needing a warm place to stay.
Xcel Energy called in 79 mutual aid partners from across the state in response to the gas outage. There were 170 personnel who went door-to-door to relight pilot lights in businesses and homes. “Unfortunately no one could start their pilot lights because it would blow out the regulator again. Xcel had to go in and flush the entire system, turn all the pilot lights off and then go to each house and business and relight the pilot lights,” explained Rosecrans.
Emergency responders, coordinators, Xcel Energy and others worked tirelessly the entire night to restore service. By midnight the system was up and going again, and everything was fixed just before a big snowstorm hit. “It ran really smoothly throughout the day. We kept informing the public pretty much on the hour,” said Rosecrans. Xcel Energy was also prepared to provide space heaters, but as quickly as they worked, they were able to get everyone’s service reinstated by the end of the day.
As the county’s emergency manager, Rosecrans coordinated with several local agencies and statewide agencies as they made plans to handle this emergency. The list of individuals she coordinated with for the crisis was long and included: Patrick Sullivan of the Monte Vista Fire Department, Rio Grande Sheriff Don McDonald, Undersheriff Ed Rapps, Emily Brown, Jody Kern, Dave Osborne DHSEM, Chris Rodriguez, Chris Burr, Commissioner Suzanne Bothell, Commissioner Gene Glover, Commissioner John Noffsker, Cindy Ford, Linda Smith, Bill Werner, Vanessa Zarco,  hospital CEO Arlene Harms, clinic Manager for Rio Grande Hospital clinics Ted Anderson, Xcel’s emergency preparedness manager for Xcel Jody Nemcheck, Xcel Energy area community and local gov’t affairs manager Ashley Valdez, Rodney King, and Susan King of River Valley Inn, and many others.
“I think it’s important that we start spreading the word around the community that this was a really big deal that affected 800 people. For the nursing homes we already had transportation planned and lined up. They were ready to evacuate patients if the temperature dropped below a certain level. These are the things we have to start considering. Where would you go? How are you going to take care of yourself in this time of need?” said Rosecrans while reminding those listening of the importance to always be prepared.



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