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Rupture of gas pipeline investigated

By Staff | Jun 17, 2015

UNITYVILLE – Numerous homes were evacuated and Route 42 as well as Route 239 were closed to traffic after a gas line ruptured in the 300 block of Bradley Road in Jordan Township about 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, June 9.

Firefighters from here and from Columbia County were being dispatched to the scene while volunteer firefighters at Lairdsville and Muncy Valley were ordered to stand-by in their firehouses and be ready to respond at a moment’s notice.

It was unknown how extensive the fire was or how many nearby properties were threatened. There was no information on whether there were any injuries.

Initially it was reported that the fire from the rupture was a possible airplane crash.

Properties within a mile of the line were being evacuated as a precautionary measure, and the Unityville firehouse was being used as an emergency shelter to house those displaced.

A federal investigation is underway into what caused a section of an underground pipeline to rupture near here, forcing the temporary evacuation of nearly 400 homes.

The ruptured 24-inch diameter natural gas pipeline is owned and operated by Williams Pipeline Co., which is headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“It was the biggest bang I’ve heard in all my years,” said 64-year-old Millie Boyer, who, along with her husband, Roger, has lived on Route 239, about a half a mile from the where the line ruptured, for 47 years.

“Then there was this continuous loud roar, really loud. At first, I thought it was a tornado. It sounded like 10 trains. It was scary,” the woman said.

The couple’s son, Wes, along with his wife and their two children, live just 1,000 yards from the pipeline.

“When it ruptured, it shook the chair he was sitting in across the floor,” Millie Boyer said. Roger Boyer felt the house shake about 9:40 p.m.

It is believed the line ruptured in the area of Wilson Road, a short road west of the 300 block of Bradley Road, between routes 118 and 239 in Jordan Township.

There were no reports of injuries or damage to any structures, according to emergency officials.

Another resident who lives near the pipeline is Sheila Lunger.

“It just sounded like a tornado, a roaring noise that was non-stop,” Lunger said is describing what the rupture sounded like.

“We were very worried. We went down to our cellar for a few minutes, but it wasn’t acting right for a tornado. I then called 911,” she said.

The Columbia County’s 911 center in Bloomsburg was “inundated” with emergency calls, according to Fred Hunsinger, director of the county’s Department of Public Safety.

“We initially got a report of a possible airplane crash. There were reports of explosions in the Unityville area so we dispatched what we call ‘a mass-casualty assignment,’ ” which sent numerous ambulances in the direction of the blast.

“Turned out there was no explosion, but a pipeline rupture,” Hunsinger said.

Firefighters from here, Benton and Millville moved quickly to evacuate homes near the site and closed nearby roads, he said.

John Yingling, director of Lycoming County’s Department of Public Safety, said homes in about a 2-mile radius of the rupture were evacuated and residents were directed to the firehouse on Route 42 or the fire station in Benton.

Efforts to reach a Williams spokesperson were unsuccessful, and the pipeline was quickly shut down and the problem isolated by onsite “emergency equipment” while federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration was investigating the cause of the rupture.

“The incident was brought under control relatively quickly. People could return to their homes in about two hours,” Hunsinger said.

The pipeline company immediately began shutting down supply gas lines that fed the ruptured line, Hunsinger said he was told.

Still, the ordeal unnerved Millie Boyer. “If someone had lit a match, we could have all blown up,” she said.

The pipeline company already has been the target of other investigations, including a fatal explosion at a Louisiana chemical plant in June 2013 that killed two and injured 80 others, according to Bloomberg.com.

The website also reported that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found six safety violations at the Louisiana plant following the explosion and proposed a $99,000 fine.

Bloomberg.com also reported that a fire at a Williams natural gas storage plant near Opal, Wyoming, on April 23 forced the evacuation of the community.

Closer to this region, another evacuation was ordered on Christmas Eve when a fire erupted in Washington County at a gas metering station owned by a Williams subsidiary, according to website The Observer-Reporter.com.