Chicago, IL Natural Gas Surge Explosions, Jan 1992


Chicago (AP) - Explosions caused by a natural gas surge ignited 10 fires that destroyed or damaged 18 buildings Friday, authorities said.
One person was killed, two others were reported missing and five were injured, one critically.
"Buildings are burning all around us," witness Sam LaRoussa said shortly after the explosions. He said he saw five buildings explode or burst into flames near his office.
Just before the blasts, the gas surge shook furnaces and sent stoves' pilot lights soaring, witnesses said. A malfunctioning pressure regulator caused the surge
a gas company spokesman said.
Explosions were reported at various sites in a 16-block mixed residential and business area shortly before 4 p.m., said Fire Department paramedic George Medina.
Ten fires damaged or destroyed 18 buildings before being brought under control within 2 1/2 hours, Fire Department spokesman Mike Cosgrove said.
A body was recovered Friday night from the rubble of a demolished building, said fire department spokesman Earl Larsen. He said two other people were missing. Three firefighters were among the injured.
Gas was to remain shut off overnight to about 640 customers in a square-mile area a mile northwest of the downtown business district. The city was organizing shuttles to take residents to overnight shelters.
The surge happened when a low-pressure gas regulator malfunctioned, said Peter Munoz, spokesman for People Gas Co., which serves 842,500 customers in Chicago - more than 90 percent of area homes.
Natural gas travels across the country at high pressure and is lowered to medium pressure by regulators as it enters a city. Low-pressure regulators further reduce the level to one household appliances can use, Munoz said.
"It's winter, so people have furnaces, heaters running. Suddenly, a burst of gas will come through the appliance causing a flare-up. Because it's a very sharp burst, that would create the explosion," he said.
"We've shut off gas to that area and we've got the pressure system under control, at present," Munoz said.
A two-story building was reduced to smoking rubble by one explosion.
About two blocks away, another explosion blew parts of the roof off a two-story house and dropped fragments across the street and halfway down an alley.
The blast in the house blew out windows in businesses across the street. Flames shot out attic windows, fanned by a stiff breeze. Firefighters poured water on it with hoses.
Smoke covered the neighborhood, and gawkers on nearby Kennedy Expressway brought rush-hour traffic to a halt.

Standard Speaker Hazleton Pennsylvania 1992-01-18