Authorities late Tuesday still were trying to determine what caused a 30-inch natural gas line explosion in southern Washington Parish, but so far have said the blast does not appear to be suspicious. The line exploded at around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday on Lee Road near South Thigpen Road in the Enon area south of Franklinton, literally rocking the area and sending a fireball into the sky.
Washington Parish Sheriff Randy “Country” Seal said 55 people who lived nearby were evacuated, but no one was injured. The only notable damage to nearby property was siding that melted off of a mobile home, he said.
By mid-day, crews had secured the pipeline and residents were allowed to return to their Lee Road homes.
The state Fire Marshal’s Office, the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office, Louisiana State Police and Florida Gas Transmission officials remained on scene trying to determine what caused the explosion.
Federal officials also were on scene Tuesday as a precaution, Seal said. The gas line explosion was the third explosion in less than a week in the state.
One person died in an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Donaldsonville on Friday and seven others were injured. On Thursday, a massive explosion at a chemical plant in Geismar killed two and injured at least 76 others.
“There’s nothing suspicious that’s caused us any concern at this point,” State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said of the Washington Parish explosion.
Florida Gas Transmission Co., a supplier that delivers natural gas to utility companies, owns the natural gas line that exploded Tuesday. The fire quickly was extinguished and natural gas was rerouted along its system, company spokeswoman Vicki Granado said.
This is not the first time a part of the Florida Gas Transmission in Louisiana exploded. At 3 a.m. on Feb. 13, 2012, a pipe segment in an unpopulated wooded area just east of Zachary blew out, causing no injuries, according to records filed with the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
“The force of the rupture caused a 44-foot section of pipe to rip open in the affected segment,” according to a proposed safety order issued to the company. “A cleaning pig was found in the pipeline right of way after the rupture.”
A cleaning pig is a self-propelled vehicle that runs through the pipe to clean out obstructions and allow natural gas to flow more quickly.
A May 1 consent agreement signed by Florida Gas Transmission officials required the company to conduct a test of the pipeline metal and determine the cause of the failure.
The company was also required to conduct field testing, inspections and evaluations to determine whether the conditions causing the failure are present elsewhere along the pipeline between compressor stations in Zachary and Franklinton. Tuesday’s explosion was on a pipeline segment east of Franklinton, and apparently not included in that order.
The order required quarterly reports on the status of the tests, but those reports were not available on the administration’s web site. Damon Hill, a spokesman for the agency, said such information requires the filing of a federal Freedom of Information Act request, which allows the government to make an initial response in 20 working days.
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune filed such a request Tuesday afternoon.
‘The whole house just shook’
The force of the blast in Washington Parish nearly knocked Suzie Goodrich out of bed. Goodrich lives at the intersection of Lee Road and Louisiana 1072, about a mile or so from where the explosion occurred.
“I was sleeping and there was this gigantic boom,” Goodrich said. “It shook the house. The whole house just shook.”
Goodrich said she ran outside to see what had happened and saw huge flames shooting into the sky. She figured pretty quickly it was a gas line because “there was too much fire for it to be a house fire,” she said.
Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said firefighters from his department reported 100-foot flames shooting out of the pipe at one point. Those flames could be seen from miles away, he said.
An almost-deafening roar followed the boom, which residents said lasted about an hour.
Doris Schilling, who lives about seven miles from the blast in the Plainview community, was putting on her makeup when her house started to vibrate.
“It felt like it was going to split my house in two,” she said. “I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what it was.”
Schilling, who works at the Sheriff’s Office, called dispatch. The woman who answered was inundated with calls, she said, but told her there had been an explosion.
About five miles away, Jay Smith said he felt the explosion.
“The first thing I thought was it was Al Qaeda blowing up a gas station,” Smith, who lives in a wooded area between Franklinton and Bogalusa, near the Ben’s Creek Wildlife Management Area, said. “It shook my house and woke me up.”
Smith said the explosion “sounded like a low-flying jet. There was a big roar. I thought it was a tornado.”
Smith said he immediately jumped in his truck and drove toward the explosion to make sure no one was hurt. The pine trees in the area where the blast occurred were scorched and black, he said.
The boom also woke Vicki St. Pierre, who lives on Lee Road about a quarter-mile from where the blast originated. First she thought it was thunder, then maybe a low-flying plane.
She knew a gas line had exploded when she “saw it was daylight and wasn’t supposed to be.”
St. Pierre said she remembered something a friend who worked for a pipeline company told her years ago–that if one ever explodes, get out. She took his advice, but had to leave her three dogs and a cat behind when she evacuated.
They were scared of the roar from the pipeline and she couldn’t round them up, she said.
While no one was injured in the explosion Tuesday, a family of two adults was displaced, American Red Cross spokeswoman Nancy Malone said. She said the Red Cross was assisting the family with food and clothing, but they had a place to stay.
Malone said seven Red Cross volunteers were on scene Tuesday. They fed about 400 people, she said, mostly first responders and emergency personnel.