November 25, 2012 in Nation/World

Officials to announce cause of Mass. gas explosion

Associated Press
 

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Authorities on Sunday planned to announce the cause of a natural gas explosion that damaged 42 buildings and injured 18 people in one of New England’s largest cities.

The announcement was set for 1 p.m. at fire department headquarters in Springfield, where Friday’s blast flattened a strip club, heavily damaged a day care center, shattered windows and scattered debris over several blocks.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno was to join state officials in revealing the cause.

Investigators and cleanup crews returned to the blast-affected area Sunday morning. Police reported no problems related to the explosion overnight.

The explosion occurred at about 5:30 p.m. Friday, after authorities had evacuated part of the entertainment district while responding to a gas leak and odor. It left a large hole in the ground where a multistory building that housed the Scores Gentleman’s Club once stood.

Gas workers venting a gas leak got indications that the building was about to explode and they — along with firefighters and police officers — ducked for cover behind a utility truck just before the blast, said Mark McDonald, president of the New England Gas Workers Association.

Most of the injured were in that group, and the truck that saved their lives was essentially demolished, he said.

“It really is a miracle and it’s an example of our public safety officials, each and every day, putting themselves in harm’s way, taking what could have been considered a very routine call of an odor of gas, but they took the proper precautions,” State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said. “And thanks to God that they did.”

Sarno and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray were attending a tree-lighting ceremony when the explosion occurred. Sarno said some people mistakenly thought the boom was part of the holiday event.

Preliminary reports showed 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.

Columbia Gas of Massachusetts continued monitoring for potential leaks and kept at least 30 workers at the scene.

Springfield, which is 90 miles west of Boston and has about 150,000 residents, is the largest city in western Massachusetts. It’s known as the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is not near the blast site.

The city has been rebuilding from damage caused by a tornado in June 2011.

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