SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) – A company whose worker breached a gas line that led to a massive explosion in one of New England’s biggest cities said Monday it’ll do whatever it takes to return things to normal.
Friday’s explosion in downtown Springfield destroyed a strip club and damaged about 40 other buildings, including some with a total of more than 100 residential units.
The gas company and rescue workers had evacuated nearby buildings after they realized the line had been breached, and no one was killed in the ensuing explosion.
On Monday, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts president Stephen Bryant was in the city, about 90 miles west of Boston, where affected residents filed damage claims at a temporary office in City Hall. He said he’s most troubled about those left homeless.
“If you don’t have a place, a refuge to go home to, it’s extra difficult,” he said. “We’ve impacted businesses, and I think we’ll do all the things necessary to get things back to normal as soon as possible.”
The state fire marshal has attributed the explosion to human error, saying a gas company worker looking for a leak accidentally breached the line with a metal tool, causing a gas build up that ignited in the building housing the Scores Gentleman’s Club.
The tool pokes a thin, steel point into the ground to a depth of about a foot or more, said Mark McDonald, president of the New England Gas Workers Association, a legislative and public safety group. Workers then insert a testing tube from a combustible gas indicator in the hole to sample the amount of gas, reading the concentrations to trace the leak using multiple holes, he said.
To avoid gas lines, workers often use a line-of-sight method, looking from the gas valve to where the line enters the building and assuming the line runs straight between those points, gas company spokeswoman Sheila Doiron said. In this case, the gas line had moved over about 2 feet, making the line-of-sight method inaccurate and meaning an old surface marking that was supposed to show the location of the line was also off, she said.
The sound and smell immediately alerted the worker that he’d breached the line, and he called rescue workers and began instructing people in nearby buildings, the gas company spokeswoman said.
A federally mandated valve allowing a quick shutoff was nearby, but the worker didn’t have a tool needed to blow away debris so the valve could be used, she said.
That’s a problem because state regulations require the valves to be accessible, including keeping them clear of debris, McDonald said.
The breached gas line was a plastic pipe that the company inserted into an aging metal pipe in 1993, Doiron said. The method avoids digging up the street, and the plastic is the same material almost universally used on gas lines today, she said.
The maintenance and inspection records of the plastic pipe will be part of a review by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, a department spokeswoman said.
On Beacon Hill, Gov. Deval Patrick said he sees no need for new laws in the wake of the explosion, which injured more than 20 people.
“This was human error,” he said, “and there’s but so much that legislation or regulation can do to prevent that.”
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