By John Raby and Vicki Smith
SISSONVILLE, W.Va. (AP) – Nearly 15,000 miles of natural gas pipeline stretch across West Virginia, and as residents of this community north of Charleston now know, devastating explosions can happen without warning.
Federal regulators say there have been 20 “significant” pipeline incidents involving deaths, injuries or major property damage in West Virginia in the last decade. The latest came when a 20-inch Columbia Gas transmission line exploded, destroying four homes and cooking a section of Interstate 77, a major north-south commuting corridor that passes through the capital city.
By the next day, hard-working road crews had the highway repaved. The northbound lanes reopened early in the morning, and traffic began flowing on the southbound lanes a few hours later.
Meanwhile, investigations into what caused the massive blast in a 20-inch Columbia Gas Transmission line are under way. Teams with the parent company, Indiana-based NiSource, are working alongside investigators, and the company says it is cooperating fully.
After the investigation is finished, NiSource said, it will “take any follow-up actions necessary to ensure the continued safe operation of our system.”
The pipeline is part of a network that primarily serves local utilities but also delivers gas to Georgia.
NiSource says the explosion affected one specific location “and does not affect the safety or operation of any pipelines outside of that immediate area.”
The damage from the blast and the inferno it sparked were breathtaking. Four homes burned and collapsed. Five others were damaged. On the highway, the heat burned utility poles and melted guardrails and pavement.
With many people at work or school at the time, no one died. But at least one motorist was still shaky long after the fire was out.
Sancha Adkins, a respiratory therapist from St. Albans, was heading north on I-77 toward a patient’s home in Ripley when a flash alongside the highway caught her eye. She slammed on the brakes and pulled to the shoulder, as did the tractor-trailer behind her, just in time to see a wall of flame roar across the road about 150 feet ahead of her.
She tried to back up, but the truck behind her wasn’t doing the same fast enough.1 2 next >>