Feds join in probe into Miss. gas line explosion

Published 6:17 pm Friday, November 2, 2007

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board joined local authorities Friday to investigate a gas pipeline explosion in Clarke County that left two people dead.

At least four others were injured, four houses were destroyed and more than 150 acres burned after a propane line exploded Thursday in southeastern Clarke County. None of the injuries were life-threatening, officials said.

The explosion happened on the Dixie Pipeline, near the Carmichael community about 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Everyone within a one-mile radius around the blast site were evacuated. Evacuees were asked to go the Carmichael Community Center.

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Clarke County Sheriff Todd Kemp said it is unknown when displaced families would be able to return to their homes.

“We’ve got a 10-mile stretch of pipeline that is uphill, downhill. And I don’t know about cubic feet of gas but I’m sure there’s a lot that’s going to have to trickle downhill to burn off,” Kemp said.

Kemp said he expects there will be inspections in the future to see if there are any other leaks or ruptures.

“What we see happened as far as this gas line, it must have leaked and leaked down into the bottom and then it had some ignition to start it. And it was a flash over, looked like at once,” said county supervisor Tony Fleming. “And everything in its path got burned.”

Ed Brown of the Mississippi Forestry Commission said the explosion and fire burned 150 acres of timber and pasture land.

The fire was still burning early Friday and authorities said they would let it burn out, Kemp said.

The pipeline is owned by Dixie Pipeline Co. of Houston, Texas. Engineers and inspectors from the Petal office, Enterprise Products, were on the scene Friday to try and determine the exact cause of the blast.

“We have the valve closest to the explosion closed off as well as the north valve which is ten miles away in Alabama,” said Enterprise Products Manager Sammy Thigpen. “We will have to wait for the fire to burn itself out before a more thorough investigation can be attempted.”

Dixie Pipeline senior vice president Leonard Mallett said the company’s gauges indicate the pipeline rupture was an immediate, catastrophic event, not likely the result of a lingering leak that went unnoticed. He said there was no evidence of tampering.

“This was an abrupt situation,” Mallett said.

Mallett said no one was working at the pipeline when the explosion occurred.

The names of the victims have not been released but both were living in homes nearby.

Johnny Jones told The Clarion-Ledger that his daughter, Naquanda Mitchell, 20, died in the explosion. Jones said she was at her mobile home no more than 20 yards from the pipeline, he said. Jones said he lives a couple hundred yards away.

“She tried to make it out and she didn’t make it. She made it to the front yard and that’s it,” Jones said.

Others felt the explosion, too.

“All of a sudden, the house just shook like it was fixing to explode,” said Ann Miller Robinson, who was at her house about 300 yards from the explosion. She said the house was built in the 1930s or 40s and is solid.

She said her kitchen cabinets emptied themselves onto the floor, the air conditioning units toppled from the windows, an air vent in the attic flew onto the sidewalk, and the windows shattered from the force of the blast.

“The glass just came flying towards us,” she said. “It was like a bomb had been dropped.”