West Virginia reopened Interstate 77 on Wednesday, one day after a massive gas explosion turned 800 feet of asphalt into cinder and leveled four homes along the road and damaging another five. There were no deaths reported. Federal and state employees are still investigating the cause of the explosion that occurred in a gas transmission line owned by NiSource Inc., parent company of Columbia Gas. “It really cooked the interstate,” said Kent Carper, president of Kanawha County Commission. The explosion melted guardrails, cooked the green enamel off highway signs, and burned utility poles along the road:
"We've been very fortunate," said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, after seeing the collapsed and charred houses. "They were just lucky enough not to be home."
Most of the neighborhood's residents were at work or school. One man, Tomblin said, had just left to go hunting.
Federal and state agencies are now investigating what caused the explosion in the 20-inch transmission line owned by NiSource Inc., parent company of Columbia Gas. The gas flow was shut off, but residents who lived within 1,000 feet of the fire zone were evacuated as a precaution.
Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, said flames were shooting some 75 feet into the air before the fire was extinguished.
"It sounded like a Boeing 757. Just a roar," he said. "It was huge. You just couldn't hear anything. It was like a space flight."
Carper said the flames spanned about a quarter of a mile and ran through a culvert under the interstate.
"It actually cooked the interstate," he said. "It looks like a tar pit."
Natural gas may be cleaner than coal (It's still being debated and studied), but solar and wind don't blow up houses and roads like what happened in West Virginia yesterday.