Several people have been injured and the asphalt surface on the highway has cracked following a massive explosion in West Virginia, on Tuesday afternoon, December 11.A part of the highway lit up, with flames lasting for approximately an hour. The incident occurred near the town of Sissonville, 10 miles (16 km) north of Charleston, before 12:40 p.m.
The Examiner reports that the blast was caused by a natural gas pipeline blowing up in the area. The 20-inch (50-cm) transmission pipe is owned by Columbia Gas, NBC notes.
Guardrails and parts of the pavement were set ablaze on Interstate 77. Reports say that the tall flames engulfed an 800-foot (243-metre) perimeter on the highway.
Several buildings in the area burnt down, with first responders describing them as "damaged beyond recognition."
The pipe burst near the Cedar Ridge Health Care Center, with all residents of the nursing home being transported to safety.
"Right now we have substantial damage done to several residences and buildings. They were substantially damaged beyond recognition," West Virginia State Police Sergeant Chris Zerkle informs.
Several people have been injured and many treated for smoke inhalation; however, no deaths caused by the incident have been reported so far. Homes and facilities have been evacuated, with residents staying inside until being told to leave the premises.
According to witness accounts, a large roar was heard and a massive impact was felt before the fire started, a sign that it was caused by an explosion.
The National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have launched an investigation into what caused the blast in West Virginia.
Brent Walker, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, states that, though the asphalt on the highway has been damaged, it is not melted. All portions of the Interstate will be reopened after they are resurfaced.
At the moment, Interstate 77 Northbound and County Road 21 were re-opened. Works continue on the Southbound lanes, local publication WSAZ reports.
"The road is not melted," Walker clarifies.