Gas Worker's Blunder Caused Strip Club Blast

Gas Worker's Blunder Caused Strip Club Blast

An explosion which flattened a Massachusetts strip club, injuring 21 people, was caused by a worker accidentally piercing a pipe.

The blast levelled the Scores Gentlemen's Club on Friday evening, and blew out the windows of dozens more buildings up to three blocks away.

Eighteen people were hurt. Most of the injured were part of a group of gas workers, firefighters and police officers who ducked for cover behind a lorry just before the blast.

Officials said it was a miracle no one was killed.             

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan confirmed the explosion was caused by "human error".

He said a Columbia Gas company worker had been responding to reports of a gas leak when he damaged the underground pipe with a metal probe.

A flood of gas then built up in a building that housed the strip club, and a spark triggered the blast, Mr Coan said.

Investigators say the employee was following incorrect markings that indicated the location of the gas supply.

Columbia's president said the employee followed the correct procedures.

"You drive the hole to determine if there is any gas outside," Steve Bryant said. "He stepped over two feet and it turned out to be exactly the amount that the service was offset from the valve, which is a very unusual circumstance."

Preliminary reports show that the blast damaged 42 nearby buildings and 115 residential units.

Three buildings were immediately condemned, while 24 others will need additional inspections by structural engineers to determine whether they are safe.

The building that housed the Scores Gentleman's Club was completely destroyed and a children's day care centre next door was heavily damaged.

Several buildings were evacuated after the gas pipe was ruptured.

Springfield Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant has praised the actions of firefighters.

"The firefighters did an excellent job evacuating the area which certainly prevented additional civilian injuries and saved many lives," he said.

Columbia Gas said it planned to open a claims centre for residents and businesses affected by the explosion.

Company officials have been co-operating with investigators and have determined there are no more gas leaks in the area.

Springfield, which is 90 miles (145km) west of Boston and has about 150,000 residents, is the largest city in western Massachusetts.

The city is still recovering from a tornado that caused extensive damage in June 2011.