Whitharral, TX Gas Explosion And Fire, Feb 1976


Whitharral, Tex. (AP) - Firefighters brought under control today a roaring blaze near the site of a gas fire and explosion that killed one person and critically injured four others near this West Texas community.
Flames leaped 100 feet into the air during the night and early morning hours.
Killed in the Wednesday explosion was BENNIE ELIZONDO, 46, of Whitharral, whose body was found in a field about two miles east of U.S. 385 on Farm Road 597.
Authorities had said earlier that Lou Emma Edwards, a housewife who lived near the scene of the explosion, was dead. Mrs. Edwards was later reported unhurt.
Hockley County Deputy Sheriff David Hamilton said the leaking nine-inch pipeline, carrying liquefied petroleum gas, exploded at about 10:30 p.m.
He said flames spread over an area about 400 feet wide. Witnesses said the flames were visible almost to Lubbock, some 45 miles away, and gas fumes were in the air as far away as 15 miles.
Hamilton said the 600 residents of Whitharral had been asked to evacuate, but many chose to stay in their homes. Fire officials at nearby Levelland and sheriff's deputies said about 25 homes were evacuated within a five-mile radius of the explosion.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said U.S. 385, which crosses
by the pipeline, was closed.
Four persons were taken to Methodist Hospital in Lubbock with critical second and third degree burns. Hospital spokesman Brad Williams identified them as MARIA ELIZONDO, 45, wife of the dead man; LUPE SUSTAITA, 43; her son MICHAEL, 19, and EDWIN HAVIN, 59.
A spokesman for the pipeline owner, Mid-American Pipeline Co. of Tulsa, Okla., said a nine-mile section of the pipeline was shut off and the fire should go out when the line runs out of gas.
"We don't know anything about the size of the break, apparently the dispatcher was starting some pumping units and one didn't start and backed up pressure ...," said Mid-American vice president Gilbert Rohleder.

Clovis News-Journal New Mexico 1976-02-26