One dead in Kentucky, at least five injured after gas line explosion shoots fireball into sky

Witnesses compared the blast to a bomb going off, and one said windows rattled from the force.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Phil Helsel and Elisha Fieldstadt

One person is dead and at least five were injured in central Kentucky after a gas line ruptured and produced a fireball that could be seen around the region early Thursday.

The 30-inch gas line in Lincoln County breached around 150 feet from a mobile home park around 1:40 a.m., said Don Gilliam, the director of Lincoln County Emergency Management.

The person who died was identified by the Lincoln County coroner as Lisa Denise Derringer, 58, of Stanford, Kentucky. Authorities said she is believed to have left her home after the explosion and was overwhelmed by extreme heat.

At least five other people were transported to hospitals with injuries, and six mobile homes caught fire, officials said. Five homes were completely destroyed.

About 75 people were evacuated from the mobile home park, officials said. Gilliam said the situation does not involve a hazardous material. He said the fire at the breach site was out.

He said when he arrived, flames were about 300 feet in the air, and the biggest problem initially was heat and smoke. The emergency management agency told residents to steer clear of the Hustonville area.

“It was impressive, it’s tragic, we hope it doesn’t get worse,” Gilliam said.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

Lincoln County is south of Lexington. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wrote on Twitter that he and his staff were monitoring the aftermath of the explosion. "Our prayers are with the families whom this disaster has touched and our gratitude is with all the first responders," he wrote.

Emergency officials said the cause of the explosion is under investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a crew to the scene.

The blast damaged train tracks that run through the area, officials said, and Norfolk Southern Railway had dozens of railcars backed up awaiting a workaround or fix. A stretch of U.S. 127 was also shut down.

A statement from Enbridge, which owns the gas line, said company officials were responding to the scene.

Enbridge said the incident occurred on a 30-inch pipeline that forms part of the Texas Eastern natural gas system, and that the line has been isolated.

"We are deeply saddened that this incident has resulted in a fatality," Al Monaco, president and CEO of Enbridge, said in a statement. "I want to express our condolences to the family and loved ones of the person who was lost today and to all who have been affected by this incident."

In January, a different portion of the same pipeline exploded and caused a fire in Noble County, Ohio. Two people were injured. The same pipeline also suffered an explosion and fire in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, in April 2016, injuring one person and damaging $2.3 million worth of property in addition to property owned by Enbridge.

Thursday's blast sent debris over a five-acre area, officials said, adding that there were reports of debris hitting vehicles a quarter-mile away.

Video posted to social media showed what appeared to be a large fireball and flames. Witnesses told NBC affiliate WLEX of Lexington that they heard a loud sound and saw a ball of fire.

"It felt like an atomic bomb went off," Jerry Sinkhorn told the station.

"And I knew what it was — it was a gas line," he said.

Sue Routin told WLEX that her windows shook and the ground seemed to move, which prompted her to get it her vehicle and leave. She said she was initially woken by "a big roar and fire going all the way up in the sky as far as you could see."

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was launching three investigators to the scene of Thursday’s explosion. Enbridge said that the NTSB has taken over the investigation into the incident.