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Pipeline blast leaves crater but no casualties

A HUGE explosion in a natural gas pipeline close to Slanec, a village in eastern Slovakia, left a large crater and caused a fire, but no casualties. Experts think that wear in the old pipeline might be behind the accident on March 17.

A HUGE explosion in a natural gas pipeline close to Slanec, a village in eastern Slovakia, left a large crater and caused a fire, but no casualties. Experts think that wear in the old pipeline might be behind the accident on March 17.

Slanec citizens had an unexpected wake-up call on Monday when the pipeline exploded only 300 metres from the edge of their village just before 6:00. Immediately after the blast, gas leaking from the pipeline caught fire, resulting in heat sufficient to deform plastic rain gutters on a nearby house. The explosion also broke several windows.

Because of a danger of further explosions, citizens from the houses closest to the blast were evacuated. Five other pipelines run alongside the affected one, the Sme daily wrote.

Firefighters, who arrived at the site fifteen minutes after the explosion, put out the fire within an hour. First the natural gas utility SPP turned off the gas in the affected branch of the high-pressure distribution pipeline. Then firefighters waited until the gas still present had burned out. They remained on the spot to monitor the site until the evening. SPP announced that it had the situation under control.

The explosion and the ensuing fire devastated the countryside around it. The initial blast damaged about 36 metres of the pipeline, creating a crater three to four metres deep. Scraps of the 700mm pipe were scattered as far as 300 metres from the seat of the explosion. The fire destroyed about 2,000 square metres of the local forest, the Pravda daily reported.

The blast cut gas supplies to 38 local villages. By Wednesday evening SPP had restored the supply to all the villages, SPP spokesperson Dana Kršáková told the SITA newswire. SPP has calculated the damage at almost Sk7 million.

Police have begun an investigation into the blast. For now, its causes are unknown. The pipeline is part of the national gas distribution network, the Hospodárske Noviny financial daily wrote.

Ľubomír Suchý, a gas expert, told the Sme daily that wear of the pipeline might be behind the explosion. It was one of the first built in Slovakia, in around 1966. Originally it was part of the 'Druzhba' transit gas pipeline, the Hospodárske Noviny wrote.

"The maximum operating life of the pipeline is 30 to 40 years," Suchý told Sme. "Therefore this pipeline is at the limit of its operating life."

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