Natural Gas Escaping Salt Cavern Blows Kansas Town
HUTCHISON, Kansas, January 18, 2001 (ENS) - Natural gas and salt
both lie beneath the town of Hutchison, a combination that proved
explosive Wednesday and again today.
An explosion in downtown Hutchinson destroyed two businesses and
damaged 26 others Wednesday. Then today, another explosion at a trailer
park left two people critically injured when their trailer suddenly blew
up, said Hutchison Police Officer Darrin Truan.
After checking all the town's gas lines, officials now believe
unrefined natural gas that had collected in underground salt caverns
escaped, for reasons yet unknown, with explosive consequences.
The blasts shook stone and brick buildings, blew out windows and doors
and threw shoppers into the streets. Police evacuated a ten block area of
the town of 40,000 inhabitants, and the Reno County Law Enforcement Center
and Courthouse was without power Wednesday.
Everybody is in a state of shock, an eyewitness said.
Kansas Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer (Photo courtesy Office of the Lt.
Governor)Kansas Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer arrived in Hutchinson
today to view the damage. He signed an order declaring the town a disaster
area, a move which releases public funds for emergency assistance.
The explosions are not confined to a single area of the city. There are
several places where natural gas is escaping from the ground, Truan said.
Investigators from state and local agencies are working to determine the
cause of the gas leaks. Professionals have been called in to try to cap
the sources of the gas.
Police Chief Dick Heitschmidt said city officials, using historical
documents from the Reno County Museum, have traced one of the sources of
gas to a leaking Kansas Gas Company gas-storage salt cavern. But there may
be more gas sources, officials believe.
City public works employees have been been pressed into overtime
service boarding up the downtown stores, setting up barricades, and
keeping debris from the explosions cleaned up.
Mary Wolff of the Water and Sewer Department says there has been no
disruption of water or sewer lines. "The water towers are holding well
even with all the water being taken out by fire crews," she said.
The city of Hutchinson is located in the south central pan of the state
of Kansas about 45 miles northwest of Wichita near the Arkansas River.
The town was built over salt caverns. Foods giant Cargill operates a
salt mine in Hutchison, and three salt processing plants are based in
Hutchinson, one of them a division of Morton Salt.