Stench causes chaos in coastal town's

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 June 2009 | UPDATED: 10:24 06 July 2010

MUCH of Lowestoft and parts of Southwold were bought to a standstill this week and people complained of feeling ill as a strong smell of gas lingered over the coastal towns.

MUCH of Lowestoft and parts of Southwold were bought to a standstill this week and people complained of feeling ill as a strong smell of gas lingered over the coastal towns.

The stench, which came from a tanker moored offshore, caused hundreds of people in Lowestoft to be evacuated from schools, shops and offices.

The drama unfolded on Monday lunchtime and afternoon. In the space of a few hours more than 500 calls from residents were received by National Grid Transco.

The following day the wind changed and the smell drifted over parts of Southwold.

It was quickly established that it was coming from a ship venting its tanks offshore but the National Grid had to investigate every call.

Extra personnel were called in from as far afield as London and the Midlands and the company took over a car park in Kirkley Cliff Road and a mobile command unit was set up.

Darren Elsom, operation's network manager for National Grid, said: “We have been extremely busy as normally we would expect only a handful of calls a day from people smelling gas. To have more than 500 in the space of a few hours is quite exceptional.”

Mr Elsom said that safety was always the number one priority and this meant that every call would be investigated.

“We cannot just assume that the smell is coming from the ship because somewhere in those 500 calls there could be a gas leak.

“This is why every incident reported to us will be investigated and we always want to be contacted when people smell gas,” he said.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service and Suffolk police also received a number of calls from worried residents.

As the smell lingered over a large part of central Lowestoft many places were evacuated.

Among those where evacuations took place were Lowestoft College, Roman Hill and Woods Loke primary schools, and Foxborough Middle School.

Offices that were evacuated included Rishton House, in Clapham Road South, and Waveney District Council's Marina customer services centre next to the town's threatre.

In all cases the buildings were checked and everyone was allowed to return once they had been declared safe.

Recently a number of tankers have been moored off Lowestoft, Pakefield and Kessingland.

A spokesman for the Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said that ships were not allowed to vent their tanks when in port.

However, the vessel involved in Monday's gas scare was asked to move further offshore.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) confirmed that the fumes in Lowestoft posed no risk.

“The gas being released was methyl mercaptan, also known as methanethiol, which is most commonly added to household gas supplies to make it smell the way it does,” he said.

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