City says emergency "unprecedented"

Posted: Updated:
By Bryce Potter By Bryce Potter

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Calling it an "unprecedented emergency", Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup asked for the cooperation of everyone in the Tucson area to help deal with the impact cold temperatures have had on the city.

At an afternoon briefing at the city's main fire station, Walkup and other city officials stressed the dangers which exist in the cold temperatures and said the city and other agencies are responding as quickly as they can to the huge demand.

Some 14,000 customers of Southwest Gas lost service early Thursday after a huge demand for gas cut pressure in the only pipeline into the area.  A spokesperson for El Paso Natural Gas said it was putting all the natural gas into the line as it could, but more was being taken out because of the cold weather in the southwestern United States.

A Southwest Gas spokesperson at the briefing said it may be "two or three days" before all the customers again have service.  He said crews need to shut off gas valves to entire areas, check to make sure ever appliance using gas in each home is turned off, then turn the gas back on and go house-to-house to re-ignite pilot lights.

Southwest Gas called in additional resources and crews will be working late into the night and starting again about 5 A.M.

There was concern early in the day that the gas shortages could impact public transportation as many SunTran busses run on natural gas.  Southwest Gas, however, provided SunTran with enough gas to guarantee bus service.

During the 4 P.M. briefing the representative from Tucson Water said they had restored water to roughly 500 customers.

Mayor Walkup said that even though you may not have heat or water in your home, it's still the safest place to be.  But he did indicate the city may open shelters tonight for people who feel it's too cold to stay in their homes.

The temperature in Tucson Thursday morning hit 18 degrees setting a new record for the date.  The mark was also the second coldest temperature ever recorded in February in Tucson.  The National Weather Service is predicting similar temperatures on Friday morning.

The two deaths were both women, both found outside early this morning. One was near the University of Arizona campus and the other near 22nd Street and Craycroft.  Tucson police said both were "weather related", but an investigation will have to be concluded to determine what role the weather played in their deaths.  Two other people were found outside and taken to hospitals in "life threatening" conditions.