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Massachusetts gas explosion: Utility worker pierced pipe

November 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A utility worker punctured a pipe before a huge explosion that injured 18 people in Massachusetts, an official announced on Sunday.

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said Friday's natural gas blast in Springfield was caused by "human error." However, he stopped short of blaming the Columbia Gas Co. worker who pierced the high-pressure pipe.

After reports of a natural gas leak, the worker was trying to locate the leak's source with a metal probe that tests natural gas levels. Coan said that probe damaged the underground pipe, causing a flood of gas to build up inside a structure that housed a strip club. Then, an unknown spark touched off the blast.

According to preliminary reports, the blast damaged 42 buildings housing 115 residential units. Three buildings were immediately condemned, and 24 others require additional inspections by structural engineers to determine whether they are safe. The building that housed the Scores Gentleman's Club was completely destroyed.

Several buildings were immediately evacuated after the pipe was ruptured. Most of the people injured were part of a group of gas workers, firefighters and police officers who ducked for cover behind a utility truck just before the blast. The truck was demolished.

Some officials said it was a miracle no one was killed, and many praised the actions of city firefighters.

Coan said the investigation is being turning over to the state Department of Public Utilities. It's not clear whether investigators will ever be able to determine what caused the spark that ignited the explosion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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