SWANSEA — The gas leak that cleared out the southern portion of the Swansea Schnucks Plaza the day before was cleared up in time for business as usual Thursday.
Now operators of businesses in the center say they hope work can be completed to shore up the mines beneath their shops and restaurants that caused the problem. Then they'll finally get back to business as usual.
"We're back to our normal hours," Tasha Pannell, store manager of Rainbow women's clothing and shoes in the Swansea shopping center, said. "But I'm not sure if people can tell because of all the equipment out front. We're down a little bit because of it. I don't think people think they can get to us."
A towering drill was parked in front of the Rainbow store Thursday afternoon as part of the mine operation. Barricades kept cars from parking in front of the business and some of its neighbors.
On Wednesday afternoon workers were drilling as part of an operation to fill a collapsing mine tunnel beneath the plaza in effort to stabilize it. They hit a pocket of methane gas and part of the shopping center had to be evacuated because of the potential for shoppers and workers to become asphyxiated. Methane can also potentially be explosive.
According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources records, the Fullerton Coal Co. Mine No. 1, which operated from 1889 until 1940, is located directly below the shopping center.
This isn't the first time the mine has caused problems for businesses or residents in the area. In 2000, four-inch cracks appeared in the floor and walls of Grandpa's department store on the north end of the business plaza. That store is now a Rural King location. Some homes west of the shopping center also have suffered subsidence damage.
According to Swansea Fire Chief John McGuire, the pocket of methane was released when the drill broke through the roof of the mine 140 feet below the surface.
Eleven stores near the construction area were evacuated while the contractor installed a pipe to vent the odorless, colorless, dangerous gas above the building and away from people.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2626.