Two central London railway stations were closed after a gas main ruptured in the West End, causing major disruption for commuters. Almost 1,500 people were evacuated from a nightclub and a hotel early on Tuesday as the leak was discovered close to the Strand.
Emergency services were called to the capital's tourist district at about 2am when high levels of natural gas were detected in Craven Street. By mid-morning, engineers said the pipe had been repaired and properties were being checked for gas before they could be reopened.
Nearby roads and Charing Cross station were closed along with Waterloo East station, which is served by the same Southeastern trains. Shortly after midday, all cordons were taken down and the stations were reopened.
Commuters had endured major rush-hour disruption, with services diverted into Victoria, Cannon Street and Blackfriars. National Rail said trains might continue to be disrupted until 3pm.
Witnesses earlier described "chaos" as doormen at the Heaven nightclub ordered them to leave, while guests at the Amba Hotel were moved into emergency accommodation. Nearby flats and offices were also evacuated.
The Strand, a major route through central London, was closed entirely and a 165-yard (150m) cordon put in place for around 10 hours.
The Metropolitan Police said the exclusion zone was in force while officers worked with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and engineers to fix the leak.
A large cordon is in place in Central London because of a gas leak...— BBC London Travel (@BBCTravelAlert) January 23, 2018
⛔️ The Strand and Northumberland Avenue are closed
�� No trains running in/out of Charing Cross and Waterloo East [ro] pic.twitter.com/85DyR1iO9W
Fire chiefs sent around 20 firefighters to the scene at 2am. An LFB spokesman said: "We are assisting police on the Strand after a ruptured gas main was discovered using detection equipment and high levels of natural gas were detected in the atmosphere.
"As a precaution, approximately 1,450 people have been evacuated. They are from a hotel and a night club. The Strand is completely closed and we are asking people to avoid the area."
Earlier, fire station manager Brett Loft said: “This is a large gas leak in the street and as a precaution we’ve evacuated people and Charing Cross Station is closed.
"Commuters are advised to find alternative route and The Strand is closed. Gas engineers are working on isolating the leak and we'd asked people to avoid the area if possible."
In an earlier statement, gas supplier Cadent said: "A repair on the gas pipe has been completed. We are now checking the closest properties to ensure there is no gas in these buildings.
"No one can enter these properties until we have completed these safety checks."
#CharingCross station is closed & #Strand is shut off due to high levels of natural gas coming off of a ruptured gas main in Craven Street, WC2. Please avoid the area & find alternate travel routes https://t.co/BstLLR9N7Qpic.twitter.com/dAjOBWKpRm— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) January 23, 2018
Cadent said the emergency services' cordon will remain in place until all safety checks have been completed.
"Our priority is to get the train stations opened as soon as possible, followed by the buildings," it added.
"Engineers are working to resolve the situation as quickly and safely as possible and we hope to have the stations and streets open by late morning."
'Crush on the stairs... security being knocked aside': Chaos as nightclub evacuated
Revellers at Heaven nightclub, in nearby Villiers Street, described trying to leave "as fast as possible".
One wrote on Twitter that it was "literally chaos", adding: "Crush on the stairs. Security being knocked aside."
Evacuated from heaven because of a gas leak wow— joshwa (@joshaaronr) January 23, 2018
Literally chaos. Crush on the stairs. Security being knocked aside.— joshwa (@joshaaronr) January 23, 2018
Another clubber, Chloe-Mai, told how "everyone was trying to get out as fast as possible":
yeah- lots of people trying to leave at the same time. as soon as the word evacuation was heard from security staff everyone was trying to get out as fast as possible— Chloe-Mai (@cutiepidalecki) January 23, 2018
Westminster City Council said a respite centre was opened at the Queen Mother Sports Centre in Victoria.
"More than 1,000 people from the Heaven night club and 350 residents and business personnel were evacuated," a spokesman said.
Hundreds of hotel guests moved in middle of night
Guests were evacuated from a hotel near the gas leak in the middle of the night.
Hundreds of people were moved from the Amba Hotel, on the Strand, into emergency accommodation at around 3am.
Some guests posted pictures on social media from their evacuation centre.
So Twitter friends. Gas leak at Charing Cross. Been evacuated from hotel at Charing Cross since 3am. Here’s the view from evacuation centre. In hotel dressing gown so can’t go anywhere civilised. pic.twitter.com/ZookT3FII0— Christine Outram (@christine_outra) January 23, 2018
Leak blamed on London's ageing gas pipes
The gas leak that closed a large area around the Strand has been blamed on London's ageing gas pipe network.
Brett Loft, London Fire Brigade spokesman and station manager at Chelsea, said: "It has happened a few times recently.
"With the ageing pipes in London there is an ongoing programme at the moment to replace all the pipework.
"It's just one of those things. It happens."
It is the second time in recent weeks that hundreds of people have been evacuated in London due to a gas leak following an incident on Horseferry Road in Westminster on January 9.