November 25, 2012

Human error blamed for gas explosion in Bay State

A utility worker pierced a high-pressure pipe while looking for the source of a leak, the fire marshal says.

The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - A utility worker responding to reports of a natural gas leak in one of New England's largest cities punctured a pipe and an unknown spark ignited a massive explosion that injured 18 people and damaged 42 buildings, the state fire marshal announced Sunday.

click image to enlarge

Inspectors work amid debris Saturday after a natural gas explosion leveled a strip club in Springfield, Mass., on Friday evening. The blast damaged 42 buildings and injured 18 people.

The Associated Press

Friday night's natural gas blast in Springfield's entertainment district was caused by "human error," State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said at a news conference.

He didn't name the Columbia Gas Co. worker who pierced the high-pressure pipe.

The worker was trying to locate the source of the leak with a metal probe that tests natural gas levels when the probe damaged the underground pipe, Coan said.

A flood of gas then built up in a building that housed a strip club, and a spark touched off the blast, officials said.

Columbia Gas, a subsidiary of public company NiSource Inc., announced Sunday that it planned to open a claims center at City Hall on Monday for residents and businesses affected by the explosion.

Preliminary reports showed the blast damaged 42 buildings housing 115 residential units. Three buildings were immediately condemned, and 24 others require additional inspections by structural engineers to determine whether they are safe.

The building that housed the Scores Gentleman's Club was destroyed.

After the pipe was ruptured, authorities evacuated several buildings. Most of the people injured were part of a group of gas workers, firefighters and police officers who ducked for cover behind a utility truck just before the blast. The truck was demolished.

Some officials said it was a miracle no one was killed. Springfield Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant praised the actions of city firefighters.

"The firefighters did an excellent job evacuating the area, which certainly prevented additional civilian injuries and saved many lives," Conant said.

Columbia Gas officials have been cooperating with investigators and have determined that there are no more gas leaks in the neighborhood, Mayor Domenic Sarno said.

Coan said the investigation is being turned over to the state Department of Public Utilities.

It's not clear whether investigators will ever be able to determine what caused the spark that ignited the explosion.

Springfield, which is 90 miles west of Boston and has about 150,000 residents, is the largest city in western Massachusetts. It's known as the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is not near the blast site.

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)