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Blast response costs top $212,000

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Emergency responders and road crews spent at least $212,000 and 280 work hours dealing with the fiery, hour-long pipeline explosion last week near Sissonville, according to Kanawha County officials.

Most of the expenses went to repair the 800-foot section of Interstate 77 scorched in the blast. State road crews have been widely praised for their overnight repair of the busy interstate.

That repair cost the state Division of Highways at least $165,000, according to a cost sheet prepared by Kanawha County officials.

NiSource subsidiary Columbia Gas Transmission owned the 20-inch diameter transmission pipe that ruptured on Dec. 11.

The company plans to pay the county and state for the costs of the response.

"We're certainly going to do the right thing in this situation, and we don't want to see the county suffer in any way or lack any resources that they need due to this incident," NiSource spokeswoman Chevalier Mayes said Tuesday.

"We're certainly committed to doing the right thing."

County workers spent at least 282 hours last week responding to the blast, which happened at about 12:41 p.m.

Columbia took just over an hour to stop the flow of gas to the exploding pipe.

The company had to stop the flow of gas by hand, but some pipes can be quickly shut off if they are equipped with working automatic or remote shutoff devices. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the explosion and Columbia's response.

Firefighters, ambulances or police from Sissonville, Malden, Charleston, South Charleston, Tyler Mountain, Chesapeake and Belle all responded to the explosion, according to the cost sheet, although some have yet to submit costs. The State Police and authorities from Jackson County were also involved. The pipeline rupture was near the Kanawha/Jackson border.

Kanawha County emergency officials met Tuesday afternoon to talk about their own response to the blast.

County dispatchers received nearly 1,700 calls about the blast. Miraculously, nobody was seriously injured or killed.

Early reports suggested things were worse than they were. About 12:44 p.m., just three minutes after the first report of flames, authorities were told a Sissonville-area nursing home was involved in the blast. Emergency vehicles sped toward untold destruction. By 1:01 p.m., dispatchers knew the nursing home was untouched.

All told, county first responders' "after action" meeting Tuesday turned up few problems with the response.

Notably, officials were looking for a clearer way to tell schools what to do in the event of an emergency. Some suggested the terms "shelter in place" and "lock down" and instructions meant simply to make sure children were not allowed outside the school were too easily confused.

But, so few were the problems identified, one official had time to mention the slow-brewing coffee pot that struggled to quickly supply coffee to first responders on the scene.

C.W. Sigman, county fire coordinator, said the county's response was clean and quick because so many of the emergency officials have worked with each other for years.

"It was a bunch of friends helping each other out," Sigman said.

The night of the explosion, Rick McElhaney, a coordinator for Metro 911, went looking for exciting radio traffic for TV stations to air. He had trouble finding any. That's a sign responders maintained their composure amid the conflagration.

"It was picture perfect — it was a pain in the butt to find some traffic that was real excited," McElhaney said. "Everything was just by the book."

Contact writer Ry Rivard at ry.rivard@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryrivard.

 


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