UPDATE: DOH crews reopen I-77, NTSB to begin investigation into - WBOY - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

UPDATE: DOH crews reopen I-77, NTSB to begin investigation into gas explosion

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Update: 3:35 a.m.

According to Kanawha County dispatchers, Route 21 and both lanes of I-77 in Sissonville are reopened as of Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

Drivers are urged to take caution on the roads as there is fog in the area.

Update: 12:02 a.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived in Charleston late Tuesday night and held a news briefing at Yeager Airport.

Officials said that they've brought a ten-member team to investigate Tuesday's natural gas pipeline explosion near Sissonville. The team plans to make its first visit to the blast site on Wednesday at 8 a.m.

Robert Sumwalt is a team member with the NTSB. He said that this visit will be primarily to collect evidence, conduct interviews and gather information about the explosion. The crew plans to be in the area for 5 to 7 days.

Meanwhile, work is under way to reopen the roads around the blast site. Route 21 was expected to be reopened sometime over night.

Crews with the West Virginia Division of Highways began work to repair the extensive damage to I-77 on Tuesday evening. By 11 p.m. Tuesday the Northbound lanes had already been repaired. Work on the Southbound lanes was under way, but crews had to stop work for several hours while Columbia Gas tried to re pressurize the gas lines in the area.

Once that process was complete, DOH crews planned to resume work on the Northbound lanes. The hope was to have I-77 open for traffic by Wednesday afternoon at the latest.



Update: 5:28 p.m.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin just completed a tour of a region in Sissonville where a massive gas line explosion today leveled five homes, but did not kill anyone.

Flames from the blast, which occurred shortly before 1 p.m. today, reached 80 to 90 feet in the air, incinerating trees, homes, cars and destroyed an 800-foot section of north and south-bound lanes of Interstate 77.

According to officials, between two and five people were taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Everyone within 1,000 radius of the blast was evacuated to shelters.

Contractors will be working all night on the interstate. The flames were so hot, highway officials said the guardrails melted. They hope to have the highway reopened tomorrow.

"The state fire marshal's office has confirmed no fatalities and that everyone in the area has been accounted for," Tomblin said during a news conference following his tour of the area. "We've been very fortunate that the time of the explosion there were no vehicles in the proximity of the interstate."

Tomblin said federal and state pipeline officials are investigating the cause of the explosion.

"Its one of those rare events that happens. At this time we do not have answers. Hopefully in the next several hours we will have a better idea of what caused the explosion," he said.

The explosion did burn up some power lines, but AEP is coming to fix those. Frontier telephone lines are also down. Those should be repaired soon, too.

No one was home at any of the residences at the time of the explosion. Tomblin said one man who lived in one of the houses had just gone out rabbit hunting. 

"That's the fortunate thing. Had there been people in those homes, obviously it could have been a disaster," he said.

Tomblin described the road as charred and baked.

"It was like walking on a volcano,"he said.

Paul Mattox, secretary of the Department of Transportation, said West Virginia Paving arrived on site before 5 p.m. to begin repair work.

"Our engineers are telling me that they are hopeful to get the road back open ... tomorrow evening."

Update: 4:30 p.m.

NiSource has released a statement about the explosion.  Anna Kaplan, Communications Manager for NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage sent 13 News the following statement:

"Just before 1 p.m. Eastern time today there was an incident in the vicinity of the Columbia Gas Transmission Lanham Compressor Station near Sissonville in West Virginia. Our first priority is the safety of the community and our employees. The site where the incident occurred has been secured and the fire-on a 20-inch transmission line- has been contained. 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. At this time there are no reports of confirmed injuries. There are no anticipated impacts to customers. We are working to gather additional details and will share more information as it becomes available."

We are working to bring the latest details on the explosion.

Update: 4:00 p.m.

Five homes were destroyed today near Sissonville after a 20-inch Columbia natural gas line exploded at approximately 1 p.m., according to Tom Miller with the Sissonville Volunteer Fire Department.

As of right now, there have been no reported fatalities or injuries. 

The blast area running from east to west was a quarter-mile wide, Miller said.

Kanawha County school officials said students at Flinn Elementary and Sissonville High School were released at 4:15 p.m. The students had been kept at the schools because of the explosion and damage and congestion on local roads. It is unclear at this time if students are still being kept at Sissonville Elementary School. 

Update: 3:40 p.m.

Brent Walker, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said reports that 325 feet of both the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 77 melted are incorrect.

"The road is not melted," he said. "What you have is it certainly has been burned, if you will. When you take a look at how a road is built, you have ground, then rock, then concrete and asphalt. When asphalt reaches a certain temperature it starts to crumble. That's what's happened. Its gotten hot and has crumbled in parts."

The highway is severely damaged near mile marker 113.5. The road was engulfed in flames and has been burnt.

"We are working with West Virginia Paving to remedy that," Walker said. "They will mill out the road, that's when they churn out all that stuff, get it down to the concrete base and then resurface it."

He said crews will work to repair the highway as soon as they can get through.

"There's a tremendous amount of traffic," he said, adding that he is hopeful the road will be able to be reopened sometime this evening.

"We are also going to look at whether we can possibly move traffic through that as they get one lane done. It certainly is significant. 325 feet is pretty long. But again it's basically will turn into more of a resurfacing kind of project," he said.


Original story (last updated at 3:15 p.m.):


A gas well explosion rocked Sissonville shortly before 1 p.m. Tuesday, setting several homes on fire and forcing officials to issue a shelter in place for local residents.

Trevor Goines and Rita Cummings live at an apartment complex near the explosion. Both said the nose made was so loud they covered their ears.

"I was having my coffee when I heard a loud explosion," Goines said. "It almost seemed like a jet engine."

Cummings said she thought a plane crashed, when she heard the blast. Residents of the Pocatalico Village apartment complex were evacuated about 10 minutes after Cummings and Goines heard the explosion. As they left, Cummings and Goines said they went north to survey the damage, that's when Cummings said she saw a wall of flames hundreds of feet high from her apartment.

"I hope everyone was at work," she said of residents of houses closer to the explosion site.

Aerial video from the explosion site shows at least three houses were destroyed.

The explosion caused huge flames to race throughout the area, lapping both sides on Interstate 77, which has been closed to all northbound and southbound traffic. Video from the scene shows massive damage to an interstate bridge near mile marker 113 that crosses over the gas line. The DOT said 325 feet of each side of the interstate were severely damaged. Crews will be on site as soon as they can to begin repairing the road. 

Asphalt burns at about 300 degrees and gas explosions can be as hot as 900 to 1,000 degrees. Reports from some sources say asphalt on the highway melted.

So far, there have been no reported injuries from the blast, which leveled homes along Teresa Drive and Old Route 21 in Sissonville. However, the fire has been so hot, first responders haven't been able to reach some locations.

Sgt. Michael Baylous with the West Virginia State Police said the investigation into the cause of the explosion is still ongoing and very preliminary. He said crews with Columbia Gas are working to shut off the pipeline to control the fire. However he said that process is very delicate because they don't want to re ignite the explosion.

Mike Banas, a spokesman with Nicorp/ Columbia Gas, said the company is still assessing the situation and looking into the specifics, such as the cause and the size of the gasoline affected. He said the explosion happened near the Lanham Compression station before 1 p.m. 

Baylous said anyone in the area of Old Route 21, Archibald Hill or other regions impacted by the explosion should evacuate.

Baylous said there are reports of several structure fires, but it is still to early to determine the cause or locations. 

Officers from every agency in county have responded to the explosion to offer help, redirect traffic and offer aid. All traffic has been shut down north of Sissonville High School.

The explosion is believed to have leveled several homes, and for a while some people worried about the status of the Cedar Ridge nursing home, which is near the site of the explosion. Nursing home owners Genesis Health Care, however, said the nursing home was not damaged and all residents are safe."

"The natural gas explosion did not directly affect Cedar Ridge Center," Genesis Health Care spokeswoman Jeanne Moore said. "The center did experience a loss of power and natural gas as a result of the explosion, but there has been no damage nor injuries at the center.  The center has a generator which is able to provide power for all necessary medical services as well as comfort services such as heat.  All patients, residents and staff members are safe and we are providing care as usual.

One man called in to WOWK-13 saying his mother's home blew up. A neighbor's home also blew up.

Schools in the area, including Sissonville Elementary, Sissonville Middle School, Sissonville High School and Flinn Elementary, have not been evacuated, however students will be held after school technically releases because they can't get home right now. School officials said the children are safe and will be taken care of in a secure area.

A command center has been set up at Sissonville High School. 

Meteorologists with WOWK 13 say a smoke plume from the fire stretches from Sissonville to Elkview and Clendenin.

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