Drivers on interstate race for their lives from giant fireball
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Brian Cruxton spent Tuesday morning on a scenic drive through Ohio and West Virginia in a moving truck and the afternoon recovering from shock.
Cruxton, 26, and a friend were firsthand witnesses to a massive fireball that erupted over the interstate when a nearby gas line exploded.
They were in the southbound lanes of Interstate 77 Tuesday afternoon between Sissonville and Pocatalico when their peaceful drive turned to horror.
"It's just not what you think is going to happen when you go for a drive," he said. "We kind of drove through the initial blast - we heard it and felt it.
"It was the loudest sound I've ever heard in my life, and I'm a gun enthusiast . . . And it looked like it was raining dirt and rocks."
They kept driving to escape the showering of debris but slowed down a bit to get their bearings, probably to about 50 mph.
"All of a sudden, we just see the biggest fireball I've ever seen just chasing us, and we gunned it," he said. "If we'd stopped in the beginning, it would have gotten us. It started as a smaller blaze, and then it got bigger and it got bigger."
They stopped after traveling another 100 yards to look for other motorists who might need help but couldn't see any. They tried to call 911 but couldn't get through.
They also needed to assess the damage. They were both OK, but a large rock had hit the top of the truck's cab, forcing it to partially collapse, and the windshield didn't fare much better.
Amazingly, the back of the truck, which held most of the items they were moving from Cleveland to Charleston, didn't collapse at all.
The items in back were jostled a bit but not seriously damaged.
"It's funny," he said. "Almost the moment before it happened, I looked at the freeway and thought, 'Hmm, there are so few cars on the road.' It was so lucky."
Tuesday's blast destroyed four homes, melted guardrails, cooked the green enamel off highway signs, burned utility poles and scorched an 800-foot section of the interstate.
Several people were treated for smoke inhalation, but no serious injuries were reported either on or off the major commuter route.
But at least one other motorist was still shaky long after the fire was out.
Sancha Adkins, a respiratory therapist from St. Albans, was heading north on I-77 toward a patient's home in Ripley when a flash alongside the highway caught her eye. She slammed on the brakes and pulled to the shoulder, as did the tractor-trailer behind her, just in time to see a wall of flame roar across the road about 150 feet ahead of her.
She tried to back up, but the truck behind her wasn't doing the same fast enough.
"I did a U-turn in the middle of the road and literally drove the wrong way on the interstate. I had my hazard lights on flashing, just trying to tell people to get out of the way," she said.
There was oncoming traffic as she hugged the berm on the median.
"I didn't care," she said. "It wasn't as bad as that explosion."
Adkins traveled about 2 miles, got into an emergency lane and got off at the nearest exit, onto Route 21, still bound for Ripley. Then she realized she was still heading toward the flames.
"I don't think it clicked until then. I was hysterical and crying and flipping out," she said.
She tried to dial 911 three times, she said, but couldn't get the numbers right. Eventually she called her office and told them what happened.
"I'm incredibly lucky I didn't die in a fire," she said as she tried to unwind at a hair salon Tuesday evening.
Contact writer Shay Maunz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.