Local emergency officials share procedures following fatal Minnesota explosion

Responding to natural gas explosions

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - The cause of a Minneapolis explosion that killed at least two people is still being investigated.

However investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board believe the explosion,  which happened at Minnehaha Academy, was caused by a natural gas leak.

The last time La Crosse county had to respond to a major natural gas explosion was in 2004.

The colorless, odorless gas is mostly made up of methane.

"There's a certain point with a mixture of gas and air, is explosive and of course when there is a leak, you never know where that point is or when you reach that point," said General Manager of the Midwest Natural Gas Company Randy Risen.

Risen stresses any leak at all is not safe.

"The gas leak that happened that probably was the cause of explosion in Minnesota, those pressures were probably fairly low but that doesn't mean you can't fill up a building very fast if a line is ruptured."

Risen says the use of special equipment helps test how much methane is in the air which helps gauge how dangerous the situation is.

Risen also says the company has a public awareness plan, which means they work closely with emergency first responders in case of a major natural gas explosion.

"That plan basically states that we need to communicate with police, fire, you know other officials, also educate our customers as to how to react to natural gas leaks."

La Crosse Emergency Management Coordinator Keith Butler says La Crosse's natural gas explosion 13 years ago at the Home Apartments building happened when a natural gas line was struck during road construction.

The explosion was constructive and dangerous although luckily no one was hurt.

However Butler says there's an organized system in place for exactly these types of emergencies.

"Police are sent to secure the area make sure nobody else is in the danger zone, and fire departments are sent to suppress the fire and also to make sure that the gas or whatever the circumstance is not continuing."

Risen says public awareness of natural gas is necessary, but it's important to remember these extreme scenarios aren't typical.

"They're very rare, I mean if you think about the millions of customers that have natural gas, so when an incident does happen obviously it makes the news because it is so rare for it to happen."


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