Workers confused during emergency

By Kiri Gillespie

People went to light cigarettes and chefs carried on cooking as firefighters warned workers at a Tauranga shopping centre to evacuate during a gas leak emergency.

Further details have emerged of resistance and confusion after contractors ruptured a gas pipe outside shops at 16th Ave and Cameron Rd on Wednesday, prompting an evacuation of businesses and homes between 15th Ave and 17th Ave.

But not everyone listened.

Firefighters had to bring in police when some business owners refused to leave their shops despite the ruptured gas pipe leaking heavily into the surrounding area. Others tried to light cigarettes.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Language barriers might have been an issue for at least one business, where staff continued cooking despite firefighter and police instruction.

Daawat Indian Restaurant manager Sandeep Kumar said a firefighter told them there was some trouble with works across the road. "Then the police came here and asked us to close for half and hour because the gas was leaking.

He just said close the shop for half and hour so we shut the doors and carried on working in the back."

The restaurant reopened after 30 minutes.

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Karen Jarrett, who tutors hospitality students at the Trade and Commerce training centre, said one of her students had just gone to have a cigarette when a firefighter stopped him and told him to evacuate. "He literally walked out the door with a smoke in his mouth to light it."

Ms Jarrett said the student came back inside to say they all had to evacuate but she doubted his story. "I thought he was joking because he was a student. They're teenagers, they joke all of the time."

It wasn't until Ms Jarrett saw firefighters outside a few minutes later that she realised her student was telling the truth and she and the students evacuated the building.

"I suppose for us it was a bit frustrating because we didn't know what was going on, but I suppose they didn't either. There was definitely a strong smell of gas."

The Big Tobacco Discounter assistant manager Naumai Tairi said she was just about to light up when she was stopped by a firefighter.

"I was actually going out for a cigarette when the fireman came in and said we had to evacuate," she said.

Ms Tairi said they left the store and had to stand across the road in a car park until the gas leak was contained.

At the St Vincent de Paul store across the road customers and staff were all evacuated. Shop and centre manager Andrea Callinan said she was a few minutes behind the others as she was working in the office at the rear of the building. "When I came out everyone was out except for this one customer who was getting changed," she said.

The man had been in a changing room. Mrs Callinan helped the man leave the store and they waited outside until the all clear was given.

The store remained closed for the rest of the day as the smell of gas was too strong, Mrs Callinan said.

"One of the ladies, she was having trouble breathing."

Another business owner in the shopping block said she did not agree with the way the matter was dealt with but refused to talk to media about the situation. It is understood the woman was one of the retailers reluctant to leave her store despite instruction.

Contractor Vector Ltd lodged an incident report yesterday.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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