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10 campers dead in New Mexico gas line explosion
By CHRIS ROBERTS, Associated Press
CARLSBAD, N.M. (August 20, 2000 6:51 a.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - An explosion of a natural gas pipeline just before dawn Saturday swept flames down the Pecos River's banks and through the tents of two families, killing 10 people and leaving two critically burned. The only survivors, a man and his daughter-in-law, were in critical condition Sunday at a hospital in Texas.
"They were consumed by a huge ball of fire," said state police Lt. Larry Rogers. Officials described the ruptured line as a massive flame-thrower that showered burning fuel on the victims.
On one side of the river are three charred pickup trucks, remnants of the weekend camping trip. Beyond the other bank are clusters of blackened trees.
The victims were members of two southeastern New Mexico families who had been camping along the river in an unmarked but popular camping site for area fishermen, said state police Capt. John Balderston. Five were under the age of 6, including infant twins.
Some had been fishing along the river's banks, their lanterns set up to light their way, officials said. Others had been asleep. They had no chance to escape the flash of fire, caught between the river and the ruptured gas line.
One survivor recalled being awakened by shouts to find herself and everything around her on fire, Balderston said. She jumped in the river, then found she couldn't get back to the children because of the intensity of the flames.
By the river's edge, investigators found sleeping bags and the melted geometric shapes that once were tents. The trucks looked as though they had taken a direct hit from a bomb.
A nearby bridge carries the 30-inch natural gas pipeline across the river, then the pipeline goes underground, said Norma Dunn, spokeswoman for El Paso Natural Gas Co.
The pipeline was 5 to 6 feet underground at the rupture point, Dunn said.
The force of its explosion carved out a crater that authorities said measured about 86 feet long, 46 feet wide and 20 feet deep.
The fire burned 40 minutes to an hour and was visible from Carlsbad, 20 miles to the north, Balderston said.
On Sunday, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were trying to determine what caused the pipeline to rupture and explode.
"There is no indication it was third party damage or foul play," said John Somerhalder, president of the pipeline group for El Paso Energy. "This was a very major tragedy."
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), August 20, 2000
For reasons such as this tragedy, the large companies will NEVER admit that imbedded chips were at fault if that was the case. We probably will never know. I sure am gonna check for large gasoline or natural gas lines in an area before I set up camp from now on, you can take that to tha bank. God rest their soles. And imagine what tha lady is going through that jumped in the river.....to loose family and friends that way and her little ones.....My prayers go out.
-- Christopher (Chris@Chris.com), August 21, 2000.
Gas-company workers didn't know about pipe system
The Associated Press8/23/2000
CARLSBAD, N.M. - The company that owns a natural gas pipeline where 11 campers died in a weekend explosion was warned by federal officials three years ago that its employees did not know how to judge the effectiveness of systems designed to protect the pipeline from corrosion.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators found corrosion in a 22-foot section blown off the pipeline in Saturday's explosion. The board has not pinpointed the cause of the blast, but the parts of the pipe that showed corrosion will be sent to Washington for testing. An agency spokesman, Keith Holloway, said it will be months before the agency releases a report on the cause.
In a "letter of concern" to El Paso Natural Gas Co. on March 27, 1997, the Office of Pipeline Safety said it believed company technicians had not been instructed how to determine accurately whether a system designed to prevent corrosion was working, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday.
The corrosion prevention system consists of an underground wire carrying a weak electric current through the soil near a pipeline. The current is supposed to neutralize natural electrical processes involved in corrosion.
John Somerhalder, president of El Paso Energy's pipeline group, said Tuesday the company responded satisfactorily to the Office of Pipeline Safety and there was no further action on the issue.
The federal agency had inspected the company's records to make sure workers were interpreting readings correctly, Somerhalder said. He said the technical question did not deal with specific locations on the pipeline system.
"This was more of a detail question to make sure that even though the readings were in compliance, we were interpreting them correctly, and we were able to show them that was the case," he said.
Federal statistics show that corrosion is one of the chief reasons for pipeline failure, especially in older lines. The pipeline where the explosion occurred was built between 1950 and 1952.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 23, 2000.