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Natural Gas Explosion, Fire Rocks South Mpls.

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) – A natural gas line exploded into massive flames in South Minneapolis Thursday morning at the intersection of Nicollet Avenue and 60th Street. There were no reported injuries.

Explosion Details

Just before 8:30 a.m., Minneapolis Dispatch began receiving calls about a possible gas main explosion. The flames were visible from a significant distance away, including along nearby Interstate 35W.

Crews from the Minneapolis Fire Department, Minneapolis Police and other local law enforcement agencies responded to the scene.

The flames were intense enough to melt off the letters of the Cub Foods sign nearby and scorch a number of cars in the grocery store’s parking lot.

Witness Jude Croyle said, “I was driving about 30 mph, it was about 30 degrees outside, I had the windows up and a wool jacket on. I still felt the heat on my skin.”

The highway was closed as fire crews battled the flames and CenterPoint Energy sent their emergency response team to the scene.

“It wasn’t a fire that built, so it was within a moment of the blast it was enormous in size,” said Erin Hughes. “So we ran down there to see if we could help at all but the heat was pretty intense, you couldn’t get very close and as you got closer it was just unbelievable how huge the fire was.”

Fire officials evacuated the immediate area and later expanded the evacuation area until crews were able to extinguish the fire around 10:30 a.m.

After the fire was out, evacuation area was reduced to 59th Street on the north, on the south by 60th Street on the south, Blaisdell Avenue on the west, and 3rd Avenue/Clinton Avenue on the east. According to city officials, the perimeter is simply a precaution and fire officials have not detected any residual natural gas in the air.

The explosion left a large hole in the road in front of a Cub Foods supermarket near the interchange of Interstate 35W and Highway 62. That Cub Foods is now reopen to the public.

Assistant Fire Chief Cherie Penn said gas levels in the air had reached 80 parts per million but are back down to zero.

Penn said fighting a gas line fire is different than fighting a house fire.

“As long as that’s venting and burning that’s the best thing that can happen here. Sometimes if we look like we’re not doing anything in these instances, the best thing we can do is let it burn,” she said.

Heat from the fire damaged some powerlines, street lights, electrical poles and vehicles in the immediate area. Damages have yet to be determined.

“I felt the heat in my car. It was intense. I never felt heat like that before,” said Kim Sax, who drove by the fire.

Viewer Shoots Great Video Of Fireball

Evacuations

An apartment complex, day care and church near the scene were evacuated, and people inside the grocery store were told to leave through the back.

Nearby Windom Dual Immersion School, which is at 58th Street and Wentworth Avenue, was also evacuated to nearby Kenny School where they will stay for the rest of the day.

Kenny, Anthony and Armatage schools were put on Code Yellow Lockdown, according to the district. That means classes will continue as normal but exterior doors to the school are locked and no one may leave or enter the building without proper identification.

Bob Harris said he and his wife, Marilyn, didn’t hear an explosion. They were eating breakfast when someone from the fire department knocked on their door and told them to leave their home. They joined a crowd of people walking away from the explosion area. Harris described the evacuation as calm and orderly, with the crowd mostly curious about what was happening.

Kiara Jones said a neighbor called to tell her she had to evacuate her home about three blocks from the blast. “You could feel the heat outside my house,” Jones said. “They said the manholes might blow.”

Read Bill Hudson’s report on the evacuations.

Mom Dropping Off Child Witnessed Explosion

Gas Line

A major trunk gas line for that section of Minneapolis exploded, and state pipeline safety officials are on the scene, according to Rebecca Virden, a spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy.

The company says the explosion happened in a 20-inch steel line that was installed in 1994. No one lost power, except for those who asked for the gas to be shut off. This is a type of leak is rare, according to the company.

Minneapolis 911 did not receive any calls about a gas leak in the area prior to the fire. CenterPoint Energy is investigating to determine the cause of ignition.

Just over a year ago, another natural gas explosion destroyed a St. Paul home, prompting a lawsuit and forcing Xcel Energy Co. — the Twin Cities’ other major gas provider — to start a sweeping process to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Interstate Concerns

Concerns that the extreme heat may have damaged a nearby overpass on the Interstate 35W forced the Minnesota Department of Transportation to temporarily close the highway in both directions, agency spokesman Todd Kramascz said. Scorch marks were clearly visible on the road.

Cub Foods released store surveillance video the moment the gas line ruptured at 8:36 a.m. A car passed by the spot only seconds before a plume of black smoke erupted from the ground and turned into a ball of orange fire.

The explosion caused a traffic jam for miles when the State Patrol shut down portions of I-35W and side streets.

“It took me a half hour to get around the block,” said Sax.

Both directions of I-35W in Minneapolis were reopened by noon. Highway 62, from Portland Avenue to Xerxes Avenue, also was briefly closed to traffic. The 60th Street ramp remains closed. Also, Nicollet Avenue South is closed to traffic from 59th Street East to 61st Street East.

Fire Dept: Huge Flames, But No Injuries In Fire

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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