About 1,200 homes and businesses were affected by the outage, which began around 10:30 a.m. Monday, BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said.
It is the largest natural gas outage in the Baltimore area since 2005, according to Foy, when about 2,000 customers in Overlea-Fullerton went without the vital fuel for about a week after a water main break leaked into the gas line.
In this case, a contractor working on the replacement of a bridge in the 1200 block of East Fort Avenue spanning CSX railroad tracks apparently struck the gas main while doing some excavation, according to Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Transportation. She identified the contractor as American Infrastructure, a Pennsylvania-based company with offices in Fallston.
Firefighters responded initially to the leak, but BGE managed to shut off the gas to the neighborhood without incident. As utility crews worked on the line into the evening, onlookers could still detect an occasional whiff of gas in the air.
Foy said it might take several days to restore gas service. One factor prolonging the outage, she explained, is the need to physically disconnect gas service in each dwelling and building and then reconnect it once the line has been repaired. The precaution is to prevent any release of the volatile gas into enclosed buildings.
Ed Schoeberlein, though, was peeved to hear the outage could last for days.
"Nobody's going to have baths," he said. "Nights are getting chilly. I have an 82-year-old grandmother who needs heat."
He also complained that the bridge work was disrupting the neighborhood, blocking a main through street since August and shaking nearby homes so badly that some doors don't shut properly anymore.
Others seemed to take the inconvenience in stride, at least for now.
"If it isn't one thing, it's another," said Terry Bloom as she sat with her husband, Thomas, on the front steps of their Fort Avenue row house. "They've been tearing up the neighborhood for months now," she said, referring to other utility work that's blocked or narrowed side streets.
Normally, they'd turn to relatives in the neighborhood, but most of the peninsula is out of gas, too. Thomas Bloom joked the family may be paying a shower call on his sister in Pasadena.
Utility workers were going door to door as darkness fell Monday evening shutting off gas service and placing flyers in mailboxes where no one answered the door. Earlier in the day, BGE robo-dialed its affected customers to inform them, Foy said. A couple of residents said the recorded message suggested the outage could last three days.
Not everyone got the word, though. Ratna Shahi, tending the Himalayan House, a carryout restaurant a few blocks from the bridge, said he never got a call and wouldn't have known what was going on if his customers hadn't informed him.
"How can we run our business?" he asked. Without gas, he pointed out, he can't cook any of the Indian, American and Nepali food the business sells.
At Barracuda's, a tavern near the bridge, owner William B. Hughes said his gas stove and grill were knocked out of action, but he was able to make pizza and other foods in an electric convection oven. With chain-link construction fence covering much of the block, he advertised his resilience with a sign advertising he was still open.
Barnes, the city transportation spokeswoman, said city officials were assessing the severity of the outage and its duration, to see whether they could offer residents and businesses any assistance.
Temperatures for the next few days were forecast to dip into the 40s at night, but warm to above 60 degrees in the daytime.
"If this was December or January, we'd be in a lot bigger trouble," said Chris Ritsch, president of the Locust Point Civic Association.