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'She could have died'; Homeowner shaken after carbon monoxide leak, officials investigating

Clarksville leaders held a press conference Tuesday after 4 hospitalizations and more than 100 calls of the poisonous gas since Christmas Eve.

CLARKSVILLE, Ind. — Officials in southern Indiana are investigating after a gas leak caused four people to be hospitalized with carbon monoxide-related illness.

City leaders in Clarksville held a press conference Tuesday afternoon after more than 100 calls of the poisonous gas since Christmas Eve.

Clarksville Fire Chief Brandon Skaggs said about half of the calls came in on Saturday. He said they had to shut off the gas to the homes and businesses affected, but fortunately, many people received shelter or were able to shelter in place.

Now, he said calls are still coming in, but it's mostly out of fear because some people have been away from their homes for the holidays.

“We'll come out and check. We want to make sure you feel safe in your home here in Clarksville,” Skaggs said.

Bill Elder, a homeowner in Clarksville, said his wife almost died after carbon monoxide leaked into their home.

He said his wife and son started feeling sick the day before Christmas Eve; Elder took his son to the hospital but said his wife didn’t want to go. While at the hospital, Elder said the doctor told him to get his wife away from the home.

“My daughter come and kick the door and get her out of here. She was in bed, and he said if she had been there 20 minutes, she could have died,” he said. “I try not to get too emotional, but I mean it's unsettling, you know, to say the least.”

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While Bill Elder said he feels blessed that he and his family are alive, he wants accountability for what happened.

Skaggs said it’s been hard shutting people’s gas off during the holiday weekend, but he’s glad that there are no reported deaths.

“It's been labeled as a silent killer, and there have been those horror stories that entire families don't wake up,” he said. “That was my fear as a fire chief. That's in my neighborhood and I know it's painful, so I was very passionate about it.”

Town manager Kevin Baity said county and state officials and the Indiana Regulatory Commission will investigate the leaks.

Baity said CenterPoint Energy, the company at the center of the gas leaks, should have come forward sooner.

“The public not knowing only gives the opportunity for the public to make uneducated decisions and those uneducated decisions could lead to disaster,” he said.

In a statement, CenterPoint said it found the majority of the calls were due to improper appliance venting. The company also points to extreme weather as causing strain to customers' equipment.

While Elder said he feels blessed that he and his family are alive, he wants more answers.

“I don't know who's to blame at this point, but somebody's responsible. I'll say that much,” Elder said.

Clarksville officials urge everyone to purchase a carbon monoxide detector.

Read CenterPoint Energys full statement below:

At this time, there is no indication of issues with CenterPoint Energys natural gas system, and it continues to operate safely. Since calls began coming in on the morning of Christmas Eve, we have been working with the Clarksville and New Albany Fire Departments to respond to the increase in carbon monoxide calls in the area, including having local management from CenterPoint Energy Operations on the ground to support Clarksville and New Albany emergency responders. 

We always take emergency calls very seriously and have responded to, and investigated, the potential causes of carbon monoxide. We found the majority of calls CenterPoint Energy responded to were due to improper appliance venting. Additionally, the extreme weather, including freezing temperatures, high wind gusts and snow/ice accumulation were also contributing factors to further issues with customer appliances as their equipment was stressed during the event. 

As is industry practice, CenterPoint Energy has utilized a propane air mix to supplement natural gas to assist during times of high system demand. The propane-air peak shaving plant which serves a portion of the area has been in service since the 1970s and is regularly monitored and maintained to industry standards. It has been used during past extreme weather events, including last year during a similar cold weather event, to help safely and reliably deliver natural gas service to customers in the Clarksville and New Albany areas. 

We want to echo our earlier reminder on exercising caution when utilizing fuel-burning appliances. Carbon monoxide can result from incomplete combustion, and proper venting is essential to ensure safe use. We will continue to partner with local agencies and assess any issues that may arise. Our thoughts are with those families who have been affected during the holidays.

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