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Gas leak from restaurant leads to evacuation in Tarpon Springs

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Several streets in Tarpon Springs are emptied after gas is found leaking from a stove valve. No one is injured.

A natural gas leak at a downtown cafe led to the evacuation of about 100 people from surrounding buildings and the closure of several downtown streets Wednesday morning.

The scene at Yours Truly Gourmet Cafe could have been much worse, police and fire officials said. If there had been a more volatile mixture of gas and oxygen and if someone had lit a match, the whole building _ possibly the entire city block _ could have gone up in flames.

"We would have been on CNN," Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Allen MacKenzie said.

The gas leaked from a broken valve on a stove at the German-themed restaurant at 150 E Tarpon Ave. When authorities responded shortly after 8 a.m., the air was filled with 120,000 cubic feet of gas, MacKenzie said.

The concentration of gas was so high that the mixture could not have ignited, MacKenzie said. If the gas had mixed with more oxygen, though, there could have been an explosion.

Nobody was at the restaurant when the next-door tenant noticed the smell. Theodore Demertzis, owner of Acropolis Meats, smelled the gas and called authorities when he came to work about 8 a.m. Some of the gas had leaked into his store.

The fire and police departments evacuated people from Tarpon Avenue between Pinellas and Ring avenues and Grosse Avenue between Lemon and Orange streets. Those streets were closed to traffic, and no one was allowed back in the area for more than an hour.

Clearwater Gas System shut off the gas to the building, and fire officials ventilated the restaurant until the gas dissipated.

The restaurant was shut down for the rest of the day, but owner Werner Kotte said he expects to open again today because the stove has been fixed.

He said he was relieved there was no damage to his restaurant or other businesses in the area.

"It was a very big surprise when my landlord called me," he said. "I was very scared."

_ Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or