Cumberland Times-News

Local News

December 11, 2012

Interstate 77 reopens after W.Va. gas inferno

Flames shoot 50 to 75 feet into the air; no injuries immediately reported

(Continued)

There was oncoming traffic as she hugged the berm on the median.

"I didn't care," she said. "It wasn't as bad as that explosion."

Adkins traveled about 2 miles, got into an emergency lane and got off at the nearest exit, onto Route 21, still bound for Ripley. Then she realized she was still heading toward the flames.

"I don't think it clicked until then. I was hysterical and crying and flipping out," she said.

She tried to dial 911 three times, she said, but couldn't get the numbers right. Eventually she called her office and told them what happened.

"I'm incredibly lucky I didn't die in a fire," she said as she tried to unwind at a hair salon Tuesday evening.

Officials marveled that no one was killed.

"We've been very fortunate," said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, after seeing the collapsed and charred houses. "They were just lucky enough not to be home."

Most of the neighborhood's residents were at work or school. One man, Tomblin said, had just left to go hunting.

Federal and state agencies are now investigating what caused the explosion in the 20-inch transmission line owned by NiSource Inc., parent company of Columbia Gas. The gas flow was shut off, but residents who lived within 1,000 feet of the fire zone were evacuated as a precaution.

Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, said flames were shooting some 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."

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."

NiSource spokesman Mike Banas said the company was still gathering facts and no effects on customers were expected.

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