SISSONVILLE, W.Va. (AP) - At least five homes went up in flames Tuesday
afternoon and a badly burned section of Interstate 77 in West Virginia was
closed after a natural gas line exploded in an hour-long inferno.
No injuries were immediately reported, but firefighters had just begun to
reach damaged structures late in the afternoon after the intense flames kept
them at bay for several hours.
Several people were treated for smoke inhalation, and a shelter was set up
at Sissonville High School, where Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin planned a
late-afternoon press conference
State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said a slight risk of a
secondary explosion remained, but people were told to stay inside their
homes rather than evacuate. The explosion occurred near Sissonville just
before 1 p.m. in a 20-inch transmission line owned by NiSource Inc., parent
of Columbia Gas.
The gas flow was shut off, but 1st Sgt. James Lee said there was still
pressure on the transmission line.
"The gas company is doing a check on it now," he said.
Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, said flames had
been shooting 50 to 75 feet into the air before the fire was extinguished.
"It sounded like a Boeing 757. Just a roar," he said. "It was huge. You just
couldn't hear anything. It was like a space flight."
Trevor Goins lives about a half-mile from the explosion and was watching
television in his apartment when he saw a ripple in his coffee cup and the
"I thought possibly (it was) a plane crash," said Goins, who immediately
went outside with several neighbors. "It was so loud it sounded like a
turbine engine. You almost had to put your hands over your ears."
He got in his car and drove closer, seeing fire that stretched as high as
"The flames were so high, they were so massive," he said. "I could only
imagine what had happened"
Carper said the flames spanned about a quarter of a mile and ran through a
culvert under the interstate.
"It actually cooked the interstate," he said. "It looks like a tar pit."
The interstate will be shut down for two days while engineers and inspectors
repair the damage and assess whether a bridge was compromised, said State
Police Sgt. Chris Zerkle. Route 21 will also be closed until further notice,
Zerkle said a State Police helicopter team was going up to ascertain the
extent of the damage while a command center was being set up nearby.
Mike Banas, communications manager for NiSource, said the company was still
"Our first priority is the safety of our employees and the community," he
said, adding that no impacts on customers are anticipated.
Sissonville Fire Chief Tim Gooch said a nursing home is less than a mile
from the site of the blast, but the patients are safe. Paramedics were sent
to check on them as a precaution.