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CLINTON — A gas leak Thursday forced the evacuation of 14 residents of an apartment complex and several homes in Clinton and the city's hospital to switch to portable heaters.

A 4-inch steel gas main was severed by a contractor during work on a new sewer line on the city's west side, Ameren spokeswoman Natalie Hemmer said. The incident at the corner of South Mulberry and West Leander streets occurred shortly before 8 a.m.

The evacuees, mostly senior citizens who reside at Village Apartments on Leander Street, were taken on Clinton school buses to the DeWitt County Friendship Center. They returned home about 1:30 p.m.

Amber Spurling, the newly hired director of the senior center, said her staff worked to make the evacuees comfortable as the season's first winter storm piled several inches of snow outside the building.

"We offered them some card games, and the Red Cross brought in lunch and coffee and doughnuts. Most of them are sitting around chatting and watching television. It's better than sitting home without heat," Spurling said.

Several residents in nearby homes also were advised to leave their homes, and children at a day-care center at the Christ Lutheran Church were sent home early, Hemmer said.

Gas was shut off to about 35 customers in the area, including the Dr. John Warner Hospital, one block from the mishap. Portable natural gas units were brought to the hospital and provided service until work was finished after 6 p.m.

Crews were expected to begin contacting residential customers around 6 p.m. to reignite pilot lights.

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