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Interstate 77 will be closed for at least 24 hours

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State transportation officials said it would take at least 24 hours to repair the section of Interstate 77 damaged in Tuesday's massive gas line explosion.

Crews from West Virginia Paving were called to the scene to mill and repave an 800-foot section of the highway scorched by the fire that followed the blast.

Emergency officials said a 20-inch natural gas transmission line suffered a "catastrophic failure" that led to an explosion around 12:40 p.m. Tuesday.

The explosion occurred within a few dozen feet of the interstate.

Emergency officials closed the interstate to all traffic between the Pocatalico exit and the I-77/79 split in Charleston.

Kanawha County Route 21 between Pocatalico and Charleston was limited to emergency vehicles only.

Tom Miller of the Sissonville Volunteer Fire Department said the ruptured line shot flames directly onto the interstate and scorched a nearly quarter-mile swath of land in the surrounding area.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Brent Walker said the intense fire had a devastating effect on the asphalt surface of the highway.

"It was kind of like a flash burn," Walker said.

Some initial reports said flames had melted the roadway, but Walker said that was not correct.

"It evaporated the emulsifier -- it turned it to powder," he said. "It's just cracked the asphalt."

Even before emergency crews had cleared the blast area, state transportation officials began working with West Virginia Paving to begin an emergency repair project.

Walker said crews would have to mill and remove 4 to 5 inches of asphalt above the original concrete road surface.

State officials initially estimated only 325-foot sections of the north and southbound lanes were damaged but they later revised that figure to 800 feet. 

Some sections of the original concrete also may need to be replaced due to heat and blast damage, Walker said.

Shortly after the blast, engineers were hopeful they could complete milling on Tuesday evening and open at least one lane of traffic overnight.

But the expanded estimate of the damaged section means it will take longer to complete repairs.

"We're not going to be able to complete it this evening," said Brent Walker, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

"We're now looking at some time tomorrow to open it," Walker said.

West Virginia Paving crews began work shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday.

"They're going to be working around the clock," Walker said.

Drivers face lengthy detours as the work continues.

State officials said northbound interstate traffic should take I-79 north to Clarksburg/Bridgeport and take U.S. 50 west to reach I-77 at Parkersburg.

Southbound traffic should exit I-77 at Ripley and take W.Va. 62 west to Point Pleasant. There, drivers can take U.S. 35 south to Interstate 64 near Winfield and travel east to reconnect with I-77 in Charleston.

Drivers can get updates by following the Department of Transportation's Twitter account.


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