Fire Chief Howard Carlson, of the 51st Battalion, said some 2,000 young students were ordered to move to the north end of the school, the building's windows were closed and the ventilation was shut off for about an hour as Keyspan emergency workers rushed to fix the cracked four-inch high-pressure gas main. Construction workers accidently hit the underground pipe with a backhoe at about 12:44 p.m. while working on a vacant piece of property next to the 98th Streetschool, Carlson said."Our concern was the gas igniting from a source and causing a huge fireball," the chief said.According to Carlson, a few students complaining of headaches and asthma complications were treated by EMTs on the scene. The 15 students and adults taken to a nearby hospital were "overcome with fumes," a spokeswoman for the Department of Education said. They were released after being treated for slight injuries, a FDNY spokesman said.Despite the problems, officials said the Fire Department ordered the school not to be evacuated. Some parents, such as Donna Palermo, whose sixth-grade son has asthma, wondered why.Palermo said she called the school after driving by around 1:30 p.m. and seeing the line of fire trucks and ambulances out front."They told me nothing was wrong, there was no need to be alarmed," she said, while picking up her son at the end of the school day. "But my son is asthmatic. There's no way he's coming to school tomorrow after they didn't even evacuate the school for this."Her son, Joseph, 12, said he could smell the gas from the gymnasium where he was kept with other students throughout the ordeal."It smelled like fire," he said.The incident followed two other gas line breaks in Queens within the last month. The most recent one, on May 12, happened during routine maintenance work on an inoperative shut-off valve and resulted in a brief evacuation of PS 107's 1,100 students in Auburndale. Three weeks earlier, on April 21, a several-decades-old line in need of an upgrade broke in Bayside, causing Con Edison emergency workers to tear up blocks along 28th Road and Little Neck Parkway while residents were left without gas power for almost a week.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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