St. Cloud, MN Natural Gas Explosion, Dec 1998
GAS EXPLOSION KILLS AT LEAST 4 IN MINNESOTA CITY'S DOWNTOWN.
St. Cloud, Minn., Dec. 11 - A natural
gas pipeline exploded in the middle of downtown shortly before noon today, killing 4 people, injuring 16 others and leveling three buildings in a one-block area.
Witnesses said the blast, which blew out windows several blocks away and could be felt up to five miles away created a dust cloud that covered the entire downtown area and hurled debris up to three blocks.
The authorities said a construction crew laying fiber optic cable accidentally ruptured the line, releasing gas into the air. Firefighters and investigators from Northern States Power Company were on the scene warning people of the leak and evacuating the area when the explosion was sparked. The cause of the spark was unknown.
Two of the dead were KARL KLANG, 53, and ROBERT J. JACOBS, 46, both employees of the power company who were investigating the leak. The other two killed were:
DELBERT ROSE, who lived in an apartment that was destroyed.
CAROLYN SANQUIST, a postal worker who was on her lunch break.
Chief Michael E. Holman of the St. Cloud Fire Department said all potential victims had been accounted for, and he said crews would work through the night, with the help of search dogs, heavy equipment and dozens of volunteers to clear the wreckage.
He said most of the injured were treated at the hospital, including two firefighters and four victims who were rescued from the rubble. One woman was in critical condition undergoing surgery.
"This area can be pretty busy during lunchtime," Chief Holman said, "We're
very lucky this didn't happen even a half hour later."
The blast occurred in the Courthouse Square section of the city, the central part of downtown. A bar, a restaurant and a two-story building containing a law office and apartments were destroyed.
Ed Murray was delivering beer to Bookem's, the bar that was destroyed,
when the explosion occurred.
"I was standing in the bar making my delivery when I felt this enormous push of air," he said. "The next thing I know I was outside the bar. It was like a movie, everything happening in slow motion and debris flying everywhere. The dust was so thick, I couldn't see a foot in front of me."
The blast occurred just one block from the headquarters of the fire and police departments, and Mr. Murray said authorities were immediately on the scene to help victims.
"I went back inside the bar to find the owner, and by the time I located him and came back out, police were giving first aid and evacuating people," he said.
The authorities shut off power and gas to the area immediately and evacuated a six-block area that included an elementary school.
Capt. Len Smallwood of the St. Cloud police department, who felt the windows shake in his office a block away, said he and other officers ran outside to assist after hearing the blast.
"We headed out the doors and there was debris just floating in the air and this huge dust cloud," he said, likening the scene to his experience at war.
"I haven't seen anything like it except for Vietnam," Captain Smallwood said. "It made me want to take cover."
After clearing the rest of the wreckage to insure there are no victims trapped, the authorities planned to begin investigating what ignited the explosion. Fire officials as well as investigators from the Minnesota Office of Pipeline
Safety were sent to the scene.
Gov. Arne Carlson traveled today to St. Cloud, a city of about 58,000 people, 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He promised state emergency money to help pay for the cleanup and emergency services.
New York Times New York 1998-12-12