CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A massive gas line explosion has destroyed several homes, caused multiple fires and shut down Interstate traffic between Charleston and Jackson County.
Authorities said a 20-inch Columbia Gas transmission line exploded near Teresa Lane in Sisssonville about 12:40 p.m.
By late afternoon officials had asked anyone living near the explosion site to evacuate.
State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said Columbia Gas employees were in the process of shutting down gas lines in the area but secondary explosions still were possible.
Speaking at a press conference around 3 p.m., Baylous said first responders had not been able to reach the blast area yet so there were no reports of injuries.
Interstate 77 was shut down between the Jackson County line and the I-77/79 split in Charleston. Northbound interstate traffic was being diverted to I-79.
He said there was "significant damage" to I-77, which could be shut down for an "extended period of time."
Emergency officials were diverting traffic as far north as the Goldtown exit.
W.Va. 21 between Pocatalico and Charleston was limited to emergency vehicles.
Department of Transportation spokeswoman Carrie Bly said officials had contacted West Virginia Paving to begin emergency highway work.
"We have about 325 feet on each side of the interstate that has been damaged," Bly said. "A lot of people have been using the term melted -- it's not, it has just been burned."
Bly said crews would need to mill 4 to 5 inches of asphalt from the road before paving.
She said once they milled, they might be able to reopen one lane of traffic while crews paved the other lane.
"We're making it our goal to get it open sometime tonight," Bly said. "We're going to try our hardest to get traffic around there."
Teachers and students at Flinn Elementary and Sissonville High, Middle and Elementary schools were sheltering in place.
The combined enrollments at those schools is more than 2,100 students.
Kanawha County school officials were notifying parents of the situation.
Because the roads were not passable, school buses could not get to the schools, according to a school board staff member.
Sissonville Elementary had no power, but the other three schools had service.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper and county emergency management officials were at the scene.
State Police and Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management officials also were on the scene. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin arrived via state helicopter.
Carper said he knew only that it was a gas line explosion. Officials did not know the extent of the damage.
Baylous said he was not sure what caused the explosion or whether there were any injuries.
An emergency shelter was established at Aldersgate United Methodist Church along W.Va. 21 in the community of Sissonville.
Shelter director Pat Taylor said only a few people were using the shelter as of 3 p.m., but she thought more might come as the evening wore on.
Rita Cummings, 59, lives in the Pocatalico Village Apartments and said the explosion rattled the pictures on her walls and shook the ornaments on her Christmas tree. She ran outside, saw the flames and evacuated the area.
Trevor Goins, who also lives in Pocatalico Village, said the blast sounded like an airplane crash. "It sounded like turbine engines," he said.
Jessica Pritt, 29, of Nitro, has relatives in Sissonville and drove into the area about 20 minutes after the explosion.
She said all she could hear when she got out of her car was a constant roar.
"You couldn't hear anything because the sound was so loud and the ground was like an earthquake," Pritt said. "It was like something you would see (at) the end of the word."
At least one woman was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.
Taylor said the woman, 65, lived near the explosion site and walked into the shelter.
"She was in need of some dry clothes -- I'm not sure how she got wet -- she was also coughing," he said.