GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — The evacuation area still exists, but is shrinking, six weeks after Atmos Energy found and fixed a natural gas leak in Georgetown.
The gas utility company reported Friday that unsafe natural gas levels trapped in the soil are keeping people out of 39 businesses and 55 homes. Crews first responded to the leak on Feb. 20.
An Atmos spokesperson told KXAN that the company has lifted 45 evacuations so far, including at The Pit B-B-Q on Williams Drive. The restaurant reopened Wednesday after five weeks, and customers came out in force to support it.
“We ran out of brisket at 7 last night. Ran out of everything else by 8,” manager Terry Tucker said Friday. “We just had to close down. We didn’t really have anything else to sell but side dishes.”
During its forced closure, Tucker said Atmos paid the restaurant’s employees.
“They paid the employees’ wages, so I didn’t lose anybody,” Tucker said. “They’re taking care of us, so I’ve got no complaints.”
Directly behind The Pit B-B-Q is Jacque Leindo’s salon, which re-opened on March 29 after five weeks. She did not cut hair during that time and got by instead on payments from Atmos.
“I have not even taken a vacation in 28 years,” Leindo said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself this whole time I was off.”
However, she’s looking for two hair stylists and a nail technician after three of her employees found new jobs during the evacuation.
“I’m down to one person,” she said. “But I know that God will send me someone.”
The car wash nearby called Laserwash of Georgetown made light of its reopening Monday by posting a message on its sign that read, “Atmos gas has passed. We’re open again.” Aaron Husak, the car wash’s managing partner, said the lost revenue is no laughing matter.
“The month we’ve been closed is actually our busiest month of the year, so it was very hard. Springtime, trees, frequent rainstorms equals frequent car washing, and it was absolutely the worst time.”
While those businesses are back open, Peter Helfrich, his wife and their young daughter are still staying together in one bedroom in his parents’ house. Their own home on Mesquite Lane has been evacuated for a month now. They can’t even go back inside to get more clothes or other items unless a representative from Atmos supervises them.
“Basically, we’re just taking it day by day, thinking, ‘Is tomorrow going to be the same thing, or am I going to get back into my house?'” Helfrich said. “There’s nothing to look forward to. It’s just an endless abyss of waiting.”
Atmos representatives met with residents and business owners Thursday night. They reiterated that the soil remains the biggest hindrance because it’s not letting the gas trapped underground evaporate quickly. Trenches throughout the neighborhoods and strategically-placed machines are helping to pull the gas out of the ground.
There’s still no timeline on when everything will return to normal for this area.
In the meantime, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce is updating a website showing the status of the businesses affected.