By Dennis Rich and Nicole Cooke Democrat Editor/Reporter
November 28, 2013
Officials were on the scene Friday afternoon to begin their investigation into a massive overnight natural gas pipeline explosion near Hughesville.
The explosion along the Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Co. natural gas pipeline Line 400 in northwest Pettis County was heard as far away as Smithton and the glow from the flames was visible for miles around. The incident occurred a little before midnight near a hog operation located about two miles north of state Route D along McGruder Road.
McGruder Road remained closed Friday afternoon between state Route D and Houston Road to all but residents of the immediate area as Panhandle officials and representatives of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, began their investigation into the cause of the blast.
According to Jeannie Shiffer, PHMSA’s Director for Governmental, International, and Public Affairs, the failed pipeline segment will be extracted and sent to an independent metallurgist for analysis. PHMSA’s investigation into the failure will occur over the next several weeks.
Hughesville resident Rick Hanks, of the Beau Solais mushroom farm, was outside at the time of the blast. Hanks said the farm is on McGruder Road about 300 yards from the site of the explosion, and he was outside, about 150 yards away, finishing up some work he hadn’t gotten to due to the holiday when the explosion happened.
“I was in fear it would cause another one to explode. It was really harrowing for a little bit,” Hanks said. “When I ran out of the mushroom house after watching it shake, it was daylight at around midnight, probably 90 degrees. I looked behind me and there was a dragon 100 feet in the air roaring like 747s. It was very impressive.”
Hanks said there thankfully was no damage to his family’s home or the mushroom house. There were bags of mushrooms hanging outside the mushroom house, and he said all the plastic bags were melted.
“If it had blown any closer we would’ve lost it. Our house, the mushroom house, everything,” Hanks said. “We’re just glad it wasn’t any closer.”
Hanks’ brother-in-law, David Williams, wasn’t quite as lucky. He lost two hog buildings, which were empty at the time and were only used for storage. Hanks said Williams also lost all of his hay bales, about 200 to 300 large bales.
Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond told the Democrat early Friday morning that he was at home about 12 miles from the site when he heard the explosion.
“I was just about to go to bed when I heard a boom. It didn’t sound right so I stepped outside and could see the glow from the fire,” Bond said. “There was a big fireball.”
Bond said as of just before 2:30 a.m. the fire at the pipeline had burned itself out after company representatives shut down the flow of gas through the pipeline.
Pettis County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Egbert told the Democrat he was one of the first responders to arrive on the scene, and described a massive pillar of fire at the site of the explosion, with flames reaching 200 to 300 feet high.
“I could hear the roar of the gas feeding the fire from inside my car,” Ebgert said. “The heat was so intense you could barely stand to get out the car and it was so loud you could hardly hear anything above the roar.”
The explosion set ablaze at least two structures at a nearby hog facility. At least 75 public safety officials responded to the scene including members of the Hughesville Fire Department, Pettis County Fire Department, Pettis County Sheriff’s Office, and agencies from Johnson, Henry, Benton and Saline counties.
Frank Higgins, a northwest Pettis County resident who lives about 8 miles west of the location, saw his phone camera picture go viral as word of the blast spread across social media sites.
“I was down in the basement of my house when I heard it. I couldnt figure out what it was, but I looked out the window and could see a glow in the sky. I thought my neighbor’s house had gone,” Higgins said.
He said he got in his truck and drove toward the blaze, snapping the pics from about 7 miles away.
“It was quite the sight,” he said. “We had all kinds of emergency vehicles going by from different communities trying to get out there.”
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said it’s working with state and local officials to gather more
According to a statement released early Friday morning from Panhandle Eastern spokesperson Vicki Granado, there were no injuries or fatalities.
“Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Co.’s 30-inch natural gas pipeline that runs through Pettis County experienced a release yesterday (November 28) at approximately 11:55 p.m., just north of the rural community of Hughesville,” the statement read. “There were no injuries; however, there were some families in the area evacuated as a precautionary measure. We are working with the local emergency responders to make sure the needs of any of those who were impacted are taken care of.”
The statement also stated gas has been rerouted from the area so there will be no impact to customer deliveries.
Another Panhandle Eastern pipeline in the area ruptured on Aug. 25, 2008, near Pilot Grove in Cooper County and caused $1,046,359 in damages, according to a company pipeline failure investigation report.
— Democrat Reporter Faith Bemiss also contributed to this report