Drone video showing the destruction following a gas line explosion in Lincoln County
The NTSB is investigating after a gas pipeline exploded, destroying homes, killing a woman and injuring several others early Thursday in Lincoln County, authorities said.
The explosion occurred in the Indian Camp Trailer Park about 1:20 a.m. just outside Junction City, and flames shot up 300 feet in the air, according to Lincoln County Emergency Management director Don Gilliam.
The fire — that could be seen dozens of miles away in Lexington and other communities — engulfed some homes and damaged others while residents fled. Nine homes were destroyed or extensively damaged, Gilliam said.
“We are immensely sorry,” said Devin Hotzel, spokesman for Enbridge, the parent company of Texas Eastern that owns the line. He apologized during a meeting Thursday night to help affected residents with their immediate housing, food and medication needs.
Lisa Denise Derringer, 58, was killed, the Lincoln County coroner’s office told WKYT. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday, Kentucky State Police Trooper Robert Purdy said. Her daughter, Candy Ellis, wrote on Facebook that her mother called in her last moments.
“She called me but couldn’t speak this morning,” Ellis said. “I have to believe that her heart was at peace when I was calling her name.”
At least five were injured in the blast, Gilliam said. The injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.
Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville treated five injured victims and four were released, a spokesperson said.
One of the injured was a Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy who helped rescue an elderly man and woman.
“Without him being there at the right time, we could have had more casualties than what we had,” Purdy said of the deputy.
Although up to seven people were unaccounted for in the early hours after the blast, by noon Thursday, all had been located, Purdy said.
The fire was out by 8 a.m., Purdy said. Anything within 500 yards of the fire and explosion had some kind of damage, he added.
Of the nine hardest hit homes, five were destroyed and four were extensively damaged. More received less serious damage. Others were uninhabitable temporarily with water and electric service turned off.
Enbridge will provide assistance, including temporary housing, to victims if needed, Hotzel said.
”There is just nothing left,” Gilliam said of some of the homes.
Victims were amazed they survived the inferno.
“It was either stay and burn up or run and burn up,” said Denver Coulter whose home burned. “I still don’t see how we got out alive.”
Judy Gooch was jolted from her bed by a “horrendous” roaring sound at her mobile home and when she looked outside it was like daylight, she said. The home was shaking.
“We just saw flames shooting up over the roof. The air was so hot it would take your breath,” Gooch said. She and her 16-year-old granddaughter escaped in their car.
“There was a lot of people running from the fire,” and to the road, she said.
New Hope Baptist Church served as a shelter for fire victims and those who left their surrounding houses in fear after the mobile home park blast. Initally, about 75 people were sent to the church, Lincoln County Deputy Jim Vines said. A 1.5 mile stretch of U.S. 127 between Junction City and Hustonville also was temporarily closed, Vines added.
Some affected residents at Thursday night’s meeting were petrified to return to their homes and received assurances they could.
“Everybody ... is scared to death that it’s going to happen again,” said Mary Jo Wood whose home was destroyed.
The 30-inch ruptured gas line that caused the explosion was shut off afterward, according to James McGuffey, Enbridge area manager. The company had multiple representatives at the site.
A cause for the rupture was not immediately known, and it could take several days to determine, he added.
The pipeline was one of three in the area, according to McGuffey. Pressure was decreased drastically in the other two in case they were compromised in some way by the explosion.
The ruptured pipeline, a Texas Eastern transmission line, stretches more than 9,000 miles from the Mexico border in Texas to New York City.
The pipeline will be the focus of the National Transportation Safety Board which said it was sending three investigators to Kentucky.
Some residents living on or near the gas lines feared an accident while others didn’t, even after Thursday’s blast. Jason Griffitts who owns a farm adjoining the mobile home park said he worries more about a train derailment from tracks that run behind the house than he worries about the three gas lines that run under the land about 460 feet away from the house.
A blast like Thursday’s is “such a rarity,” he said. He got a visit from gas company representatives previously and they instructed him on the signs — hissing, dirt blowing up, dead vegetation — of a gas leak.
It’s not clear if there were any advance signs that trouble was brewing in the mobile home park before Thursday.
Gilliam, the emergency manager for the county, said he wakes up in the night concerned about the pipelines.
“When you get age on ‘em, you can’t help but be concerned,” he said. “I don’t know who would want to build next to a pipeline.”
Despite the death and damage, the community got lucky Thursday because the results could have been much worse, Gilliam said.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement he and his office were monitoring the blast aftermath and the investigation that was beginning.
“Our prayers are with all the families whom this disaster has touched, and our gratitude is with all the first responders who rushed toward towering flames to protect their neighbors and communities,” the Kentucky Republican said.
State Rep David Meade, R-Sanford, said he was flying into Blue Grass Airport at 1:30 a.m. when he saw the flames.
“It was massive,” said Meade, who was helping direct traffic in Lincoln County later Thursday.
Laura Sioux Kirkpatrick wrote on Facebook her parents lost everything in the fire. She said her mother was burned but OK.
“My step dad who is a Marine said he thought it was a nuclear attack it was so bright and the house walls was just melting right in front of their eyes,” Kirkpatrick wrote. “We don’t know how they got out alive but they did barely and at one point was trapped in the house and was for sure they where not going to get out.”