Thousands spooked by harmless gassy smell

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - "What's that smell?"   Tens of thousands were asking themselves that today as a strange odor wafted across central Palm Beach County.  

Many say that they first smelled it around 11 a.m. Wednesday  in and around Lake Worth.  

"It forced everybody out of the restaurant, immediately," said Jay Alizzi, the owner of Rosalita's restaurant.  

They had to evacuate after the smell was sucked in through their A/C vents.   Sandra Wischer and her friend jumped into a car to escape, and search.  

"I thought it was sewage. We were concerned," said Wischer.  

Around 100 people called FPU to find out whether it was a dangerous gas leak.   Late Wednesday night, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue said the rate of calls from concerned citizens was increasing as the evening wore on.  

FPU says a worker at their Lake Worth gate transfer station may have accidentally put too much of a harmless odorizing chemical called 'mercapton' into the gas lines today.   The odor is a safety measure, in case there really is a gas leak.   The county's emergency operations center sent a reverse 911 call to the 47,136 residents who live within the boundaries of Forest Hill and Hypoluxo and I-95 and Florida's Turnpike.  

"Your local fire rescue agency is aware of the strong gas smell," the computerized voice says. "The rotten egg smell will begin to dissipate throughout the evening."   "Very big relief it wasn't a gas problem," said Alizzi.  

No gas problem, but definitely an odor problem.  

"It was just a sour smell," said restaurant worker Janelle Carle.  

FPU  says that you should always call if you smell gas, because it is impossible to discern the difference between a real gas leak and the smell of the harmless chemical.  

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue told us that if for some reason a pilot was extinguished on an appliance, it is recommended that the homeowner/resident contact the utility company to check the system and re-light the pilot.  

"We do not recommend they attempt to re-light the pilot themselves for safety reasons, said Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

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