Authorities Tuesday said no one was killed after a 20-inch diameter transmission line owned by NiSource Inc. exploded just after midday near its Columbia Gas Transmission Lanham Compressor Station near Sissonville, WV, a rural community of 4,000 about 15 miles north of the state capital, Charleston.
According to Kanawha County, WV, officials, the explosion destroyed at least five homes and created several fires that were so intense firefighters were unable to move equipment near burning structures for a short period of time. The explosion also shut down a portion of Interstate 77, which straddles Sissonville.
Several people were being treated for smoke inhalation following the incident, according to police. Firefighters also were battling hot spots late Tuesday. A nursing home about one mile away from the site of the explosion was not damaged, and students were sheltered in place in their schools during the event. A shelter was set up at Sissonville High School, where Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin held a press conference.
Tomblin told reporters that the state Fire Marshal’s Office had confirmed there were no fatalities.
“We are very fortunate for the time of the explosion,” Tomblin said, as reported by Jeff Morris of WCHS TV in Charleston. “There were no vehicles on the interstate.”
No one was at home either at the residences that were destroyed, the governor said. “I was told one gentleman had just gone rabbit hunting.”
NiSource spokesman Mike Banas said the site “has been secured and the fire…has been contained. Our first priority remains the safety of the community and our employees. We have a team of employees working with first responders to assess damages and we’ll be working to accommodate the needs of affected residents. There are no anticipated impacts to customers. We are working to gather additional details and will share more information as it becomes available.”
The interstate will be shut down for at least two days until engineers and inspectors repair the damage and assess whether a bridge is compromised, said State Police Sgt. Chris Zerkle. Route 21 in Sissonville also is to be closed until further notice. The fire was so intense that it melted portions of the roadways, he said. A state police helicopter team was planning to assess the extent of the damage and a command center was being set up as well.
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