A natural gas pipeline owned by Canadian company Enbridge exploded in Kentucky early Thursday, sending flames 300 feet into the sky, killing one woman and sending five people to the hospital, CBS News reported. The blast was so strong it showed up on radar.
“It was like an atomic bomb went off, basically,” one evacuee told WKYT, as CBS News reported. All told, around 75 people were forced to flee their homes in the Indian Camp trailer park in Moreland, The Associated Press reported.
The explosion occurred around 1 a.m. It destroyed at least five homes in the trailer park and damaged four others, The Louisville Courier Journal reported. It took firefighters hours to fight the flames, which burned trees and grass in the area and left only red dirt behind, according to The Associated Press.
“The part of the area that has been compromised, there’s just nothing left,” Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Don Gilliam said. “The residences that are still standing or damaged will be accessible. There doesn’t really look like there’s any in-between back there. They’re either destroyed or they’re still standing.”
The flames also melted tar on the nearby U.S. 127 and were visible throughout Lincoln County. The smoke could be seen from Louisville, 70 miles away, according to The Louisville Courier Journal.
Jodie Coulter, one of the five people injured, described the blast.
“I could feel it as we were running from the house,” Coulter told The Louisville Courier Journal. “I could feel it, like if you had your hand in an oven.”
The woman who died was identified as 58-year-old Lisa Denise Derringer, one of Coulter’s neighbors in the mobile home park. Kentucky State Police spokesman Robert Purdy said she may have left her home because of the fire and died from heat exposure, as The Associated Press reported.
Nearby railway tracks were also damaged, causing an overnight back-up of 31 trains, Purdy said.
The explosion was the second this year on Enbridge’s Texas Eastern natural gas pipeline, Reuters pointed out. Another explosion in Ohio in January on the same line injured two. But, as Quartz summarized, Enbridge overall has a history of disasters from both its natural gas and liquid oil pipelines. Its lines were behind both the Kalamazoo River spill, which dumped around one million gallons of tar sands oil into the Michigan waterway in 2010, and a 50,000 gallon oil spill in Wisconsin in 2012. A Greenpeace report found that the company averaged one hazardous liquid pipeline accident every 20 days between 2002 and 2018.
Despite its record, the company is behind a controversial plan to replace its aging line 5 pipelines with an oil-transport tunnel under Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes.
Washington Gov. and climate-focused presidential candidate Jay Inslee came out against both the existing pipelines and the proposed tunnel last month, calling them “a clear and present threat to the health of the Great Lakes and to our climate” in a statement reported by The Detroit News.
But the dangers of fossil fuel use are bigger than one company. Environmental group Earthworks noted that the Kentucky explosion was the fourth involving oil and gas infrastructure in the last two days.
“These incidents are just the latest in a growing list of injurious and deadly fossil fuel impacts across the United States,” Earthworks blogger Melissa Troutman wrote. “As the renewable energy revolution continues to grow, these events are a tragic reminder of what our society has yet to leave behind.”