Kansas gas geyser disaster kills 1, town in tumult

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Kansas gas geyser disaster kills 1, town in tumult [man infront of burning gas] A police officer Gordan Smith stands watch outside a burning natural gas well in downtown Hutchinson, Kansas

January 19, 2001 Web posted at: 2:13 PM EST (1913 GMT)

HUTCHINSON, Kansas (Reuters) - A giant natural gas leak that touched off explosions in Hutchinson, Kansas, and caused 30-foot-high geysers of gas, killed one man Friday, sent hundreds fleeing their homes, and set city and Kansas state officials scrambling to contain the problem.

"They have closed down all the schools today because it's unknown where this stuff is going to pop up," said Hutchinson Police Lt. Randy Henderson. "They think it's safer if the kids are at their homes."

Authorities said Friday the source of the gas has been identified as a massive underground storage facility about seven miles outside of town. Gas apparently was escaping through a break in a concrete tube that is used to carry pressurized gas into the underground cavern.

The break allowed the natural gas to seep unchecked through underground fault lines in the salt mines and deep wells that lie underneath the central Kansas town, investigators speculated. The dramatic gas geysers occurred when the gas collected in a pocket near the surface, and then exploded upward.

One person has died so far in the series of disastrous events. John Hahn, 68, died Friday from burns and injuries suffered Thursday morning when his trailer home suddenly burst into a fireball as a pent-up pocket of natural gas shot through the ground and into the trailer, Henderson said.

Hahn's wife, 64-year-old Mary Ann Hahn, was in critical condition, Henderson said.

The trailer explosion followed a similar blast that hit two adjacent downtown businesses Wednesday morning, forcing employees to rush for the exits with a fireball at their heels. At least 26 nearby businesses were damaged, but injuries were minor.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were evacuated Thursday, and the national guard has been called in to assist emergency workers and law enforcement.

Gas leak experts were working to "bleed off" the natural gas storage facility Friday, which is owned by a subsidiary of Kansas Gas Service. The geysers shooting up through the ground at various locations were becoming less forceful as a result, authorities said.

Still, it was unlikely displaced residents would be able to return to their homes for at least two more days, said Henderson.

"We hope the worst is over. Of course we thought that yesterday," he said.

-- K (infosurf@yahoo.com), January 19, 2001


Crews Work To Plug Kansas Gas Leak The Associated Press, Sat 20 Jan 2001 Email this story to a friend Print this story HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) Crews toiling in freezing temperatures Saturday were unable to plug a leak in an underground gas storage facility that has created towering gas geysers and explosions in this central Kansas town.

Inspectors found on Saturday a pocket of underground gas from the leak that posed more problems. Kansas Gas Service officials ordered the evacuation of Cargill Salt Co. after hand-held monitors detected increasing levels of gas, said Ross VanderHamm, deputy city manager.

More than a dozen workers were evacuated, but no one at the company became ill, authorities said.

The leak was blamed for blasts that sparked devastating fires since Wednesday one that killed one man at a mobile home park and forced hundreds of evacuations and another that destroyed two downtown businesses. One woman remains hospitalized.

The leak is coming from a pipe that removes gas from a cavernous area seven miles northwest of the city and some 550 feet below the surface, said Conrad Koehler, Kansas Gas spokesman.

While overnight temperatures dipped into the single digits, crews tried to seal the leak and transfer gas from the problem cavern to nearby storage areas.

``Certainly there are some risks, but we are using people used to doing this,'' said Larry Fischer, Kansas Gas vice president for operations.

A fire downtown continued to burn Saturday, fed by one of at least nine lingering plumes of gas. The eight others were clustered in a residential area. At times the geysers had spewed up to 30 feet above ground, pushed by the gas pressure, but by Saturday they were running about 3 feet.

Officials said all the gas came to the surface through old wells that had been capped and forgotten as the city was built around and above them.

Workers on Saturday were completing a series of wells designed to relieve the underground pressure and further reduce the geysers.

http://www.worldenergynews.com/? action=display&article=5389879&template=energy/index.txt&index=recent

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 20, 2001.

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