The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

December 11, 2012

UPDATED: Gas line explodes, burns homes and roads

SISSONVILLE — Four homes went up in flames and collapsed in charred heaps Tuesday after a natural gas line exploded in an inferno that raged for at least an hour, melting guardrails and pavement on a swath of Interstate 77.

Five other homes had extensive external damage, and several people were treated for smoke inhalation, but authorities said there were no fatalities and all residents had been accounted for.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who toured the damage then briefed the media. “They were just lucky enough not to be home.”

Most were at work. One man had just left to go hunting, he said.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said a slight risk of a secondary explosion remained, so people who had initially been told to stay inside nearby homes were later urged to evacuate.

The explosion occurred between Sissonville and Pocatalico 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 State Police 1st Sgt. James Lee said there was still pressure on the transmission line.

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 floor shook.

“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 hilltops.

“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.”

Tomblin said a roughly 800-foot section both directions was baked by the heat.

“It turned the asphalt to cinder,” he said, after walking across it. “Your feet were hot. It was like walking on a volcano.”

Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said contractors are already working on repairs, and the state hopes to have the highway reopened by Wednesday night. Crews were expected to work through the night to remove the asphalt and grind the roadway down to the original concrete before repaving.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get it back,” Mattox said.

Guardrails melted, utility poles burned, an ordinarily reflective green interstate sign was burned down to white metal and the blast blew a huge hole in the road, throwing dirt, rocks and debris across the interstate.

“Even the hillside was on fire,” Tomblin said. “There are some homes in close proximity that are still smoking.”

Tom Miller, training officer at the Sissonville Volunteer Fire Department, marveled at the destruction.

“Four lanes are gone,” he said, adding that it was remarkable that no motorists were injured. “We were very lucky — no rush-hour traffic.”

Federal and state investigators are now trying to determine the cause.

“It’s one of those rare events that happen,” the governor said, “and at this time we do not have those answers,” he said

NiSource spokesman Mike Banas said the company was still gathering facts.

“Our first priority is the safety of our employees and the community,” he said, adding that no impacts on customers are anticipated.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee and has made pipeline safety a priority, vowed to get answers.

The West Virginia Democrat said the National Transportation Safety Board is launching a team “imminently” to investigate, he said, as is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Text Only
Latest News
  • Steelers speedy rookie LB Shazier making quick impression

    The 15th overall pick in the draft is drawing raves from his teammates for his quickness and his coaches for his smarts.

    July 31, 2014

  • prezarrested.jpg Protesters arrested at UMWA Rally in Pittsburgh

    After marching from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to the William S. Moorehead Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, around 15 United Mine Workers of America (UMW) leaders were arrested.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo 2 Stories

  • Mercer shooting sends one to hospital

     One person has been shot following an apparent altercation in the Montcalm area of Mercer County.

    July 31, 2014

  • UMWA1.jpg More than 5,000 protesting new EPA rules at rally

    Today, 73 buses will bring miners and UMW members to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a labor rally and march through downtown Pittsburgh.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Kroger restricts pseudoephedrine sales in state

    Supermarket chain Kroger is tightening monthly purchase limits of cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine at its West Virginia stores.

    July 31, 2014

  • ‘Biscuit guy’ makes his mark with anthem at TWV

    The old saying “being at the right place at the right time” couldn’t be more true for Calvin Alexander. Thanks to a salad dressing bottle (and some impressive vocal skills), Alexander was invited to sing the national anthem not once, but twice, at Theatre West Virginia before the opening of “Hatfields and McCoys."

    July 31, 2014

  • legion American Legion posts plan to merge

    To help deal with its decreasing membership numbers, Beckley American Legion Post 70 is planning a merger with Post 32. INCLUDES TOUT VIDEO.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • legal Tort reform group brings message to Beckley

    How can West Virginia create more jobs and have a better business climate, at no cost to taxpayers? Greg Thomas, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA), says legal reform is one of the answers to that question.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tri-state coal interests rally before hearings

     More than 2,000 union workers and others organized by the coal industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia joined top state elected officials Wednesday to rally against proposed stricter federal pollution regulations for coal-burning power plants.

    July 31, 2014 1 Story

  • Judge in W.Va. asked to delay gay marriage ruling

    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has asked a judge to postpone ruling on a federal lawsuit challenging West Virginia's same-sex marriage ban until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a ruling in a similar case in Virginia.

    July 30, 2014