US gas blast cooks highway, flattens houses

Last updated 10:40 13/12/2012

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A gas pipe in the US state of West Virginia has exploded, destroying four homes and cooking a section of a main highway.

Interstate 77 has reopened in both directions after crews worked through the night to repair damage from the massive natural gas line explosion and fire.

The damage from the inferno was breathtaking. Four homes burned and collapsed. Five others were damaged. On the highway, the heat burned utility poles and melted guardrails and pavement.

The inferno destroyed four, melted guardrails and left a huge swath of the interstate in Sissonville impassible.

With many people at work or school at the time, no one died. But at least one motorist was still shaky long after the fire was out.

Sancha Adkins, a respiratory therapist from St. Albans, was heading north on I-77 toward a patient's home in Ripley when a flash alongside the highway caught her eye. She slammed on the brakes and pulled to the shoulder, as did the tractor-trailer behind her, just in time to see a wall of flame roar across the road about 150 feet ahead of her.

She tried to back up, but the truck behind her wasn't doing the same fast enough.

"I did a U-turn in the middle of the road and literally drove the wrong way on the interstate. I had my hazard lights on flashing, just trying to tell people to get out of the way," she said.

There was oncoming traffic as she hugged the berm on the median.

"I didn't care," she said. "It wasn't as bad as that explosion."

A roughly 800-foot section in both directions on the road was baked by the heat.

Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said crews had to remove asphalt and grind the roadway down to the original concrete before repaving.

Federal and state officials are investigating what caused the explosion.

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- AP

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