Saturday, November 7, 2009

Natural Gas Fire in Texas Panhandle

(AP) – 1 day ago

BUSHLAND, Texas — A natural gas pipeline exploded in the Texas Panhandle on Thursday, shaking homes, melting window blinds and shooting flames hundreds of feet into the air, authorities said.

Three people were injured in the blast, which occurred at 1 a.m. near Amarillo, and they were taken to an area hospital with burns, said Potter County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Roger Short.

"My home is about 20 miles something away and I could see the flames from my home," Short said. "You could hear the roar of the flames 20 miles away."

Firefighters were able to contain most of the flames by 5:30 a.m. though small grass fires continued to burn, Short said.

Nearby residents were evacuated, and the pipeline's gas was shut off, Short said. One house was destroyed, and several others were damaged in Bushland, about 15 miles west of Amarillo, he said.

"The heat onto the homes, it did a lot of damage. You could see blinds inside the homes that were melted. ... It was very hot," Short said.

Bushland Middle School's principal, Mark Reasor, said about 60 people who were evacuated took shelter at the school for a few hours before returning home before dawn. Gas service had been cut off to nearby homes and Bushland's schools, officials said.

One of those injured was in satisfactory condition at an Amarillo hospital, a spokeswoman there said. Another was treated and released and the third was transferred to a burn center at a Lubbock hospital, she said.

A team of investigators was heading to the pipeline, said Robert Newberry, a spokesman for El Paso Corp. Investigators with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also were en route, administration spokeswoman Pat Klinger said.

El Paso Natural Gas is a subsidiary of Houston-based El Paso Corp.

In 2007, the corporation agreed to a $15.5 million fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and pipeline safety regulators involving an explosion near Carlsbad, N.M., that killed 12 members of a family who were camped near the pipeline.

The blast in 2000 occurred in a 50-year-old, 30-inch pipeline that left a 20-foot-deep crater 86 feet by 46 feet in size.

The corporation also committed to spending $86 million to modify the 10,000-mile pipeline system. Newberry said Thursday the modifications are 93 percent complete.

Richard Wheatley, spokesman for El Paso Corp., said it was not clear Thursday if the blast near Bushland involved pipeline not yet modified.

A civil trial involving emotional distress claims by first responders to the 2000 blast is under way in Roswell, N.M. and was expected to last several more weeks.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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