4 hurt, 200 evacuated after Washington plant fire

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on March 31, 2014 at 9:36 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 31 at 7:00 PM

4 workers are reported injured, 200 people were evacuated and a cloud of gas is hanging in the air after an explosion at the Williams-Northwest Pipeline storage plant in Plymouth, Wash.

Puget Sound Energy says it does not expect any impacts on Seattle-area gas service following a major gas line rupture and explosion at a natural gas plant near Kennewick.

Benton County Sheriff Steven Keane says the fire from the 8:20 a.m. blast has been put out. The fire also punctured a liquefied natural gas storage tank.

Keane said some gas leaked from the tank to the ground in a containment area and evaporated into the air, but it was only a small amount. "I think if one of those huge tanks has exploded, it might have been a different story," he said.

The company’s website says the pipeline is the major “artery” of gas to the Pacific Northwest.

PSE spokesperson Ray Lane referred additional questions to Williams. 

Williams-Northwest spokesperson Michele Swaner said she’s been told there was only one injury to an employee who suffered non-life threatening burns. She says about a dozen and half people work on the plant.

She says workers have shut down lines leading into the storage tank that is ruptured and the company is able to re-route gas around the rupture so that supply to the Seattle-area should not be impacted.

Swaner said investigators may not be able to get into the plant today to determine the cause. There are reports that a robot is being deployed to get a first look at the damage.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is also sending a team to investigate.

Deputies went door to door throughout Plymouth, along the Columbia River, and evacuated people in a 2-mile radius.

Buses were provided for those without cars, and a shelter was set up across the river in Oregon at the Umatilla County Fairgrounds. As part of the evacuation, Highway 14 and railroad tracks were shut down.

A secretary with the Patterson School District, about 7 miles away, said it provided three school buses to help with the evacuation. Students are on spring break, secretary Rachelle Munn said.

According to the company website, Williams operates about 15,000 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines.

Swaner says the storage tank that ruptured holds cold, surplus natural gas that is tapped in case of high demand. She says the tank was about a third full.

The liquefied natural gas tank has a capacity of 1.2 billion cubic feet, but it was not full, and only a relatively small amount of gas leaked from the rupture and spilled to the ground in a containment area, the sheriff said.

A KING 5 crew is on its way to the scene.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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