Residents of the Enon area were jolted awake before dawn Tuesday by a huge pipeline explosion, the flames and smoke from which were reportedly seen from as far away as the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal later said a 30-inch gas pipeline, which he believed belonged to Florida Gas Transmission Co., exploded on South Thigpen Road shortly before 5:40 a.m. There were no injuries, but 55 people were evacuated, he said.
About 6 a.m. the plume of smoke could be seen easily from Bogalusa.
In a briefing about 8:45 a.m., Seal said he had visited the blast site and that “it looked like a bomb went off.”
Surrounding grass and woods were burned off and smoking, and the area looked like it got “as hot as a pottery kiln,” he said.
“It’s the first time I ever saw anything like that,” Seal said.
Chief Deputy Mike Haley, who accompanied Seal to the site, said he saw a “big (electricity) transmission line down,” and that the devastation of the area reminded him of World War I as depicted in the movie “Sergeant York,” which he’d just seen.
“The pit was probably 12 by 30 feet and 5 to 6 feet deep,” he said. “It probably scorched 20 or 30 acres.”
It also melted the siding on Doris and Roger Dutruch’s nearby trailer.
Doris was alone and watching television at the time of the explosion, she said from a safe spot near the emergency responder command center at Lee Road and Louisiana Highway 1072 about 7 a.m.
“It just blew up,” Doris Dutruch said. “I felt the door, and it was hot.”
She called her husband, who was just arriving for work at St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington. He got back fast and met Doris at the command center, but they were not yet allowed to go back and check out their residence.
“It’s a pretty place, but I don’t know what it looks like now,” Roger Dutruch said. “Naturally (Doris) was scared to death. It almost blew her off the couch. It blew the coffee table glass up in the air.”
He pointed out that dirt from the blast had settled on his wife’s car and on the car of a neighbor who lived “half a mile down the road.”
Jay Smith said he lives five miles from the explosion site.
“It woke me up,” he said. “I was dead asleep. It shook the trailer. I could hear it roar and rumble like a jet airplane over the house. It seemed like that lasted 45 minutes or so.
“I ran out, scared to death. I didn’t know if Al Qaida hit us. It was a super loud explosion. There were two explosions, one, and then a few minutes later, another one. I jumped in the truck and headed toward the noise.”
Kelly Sandifer, who lives about a half mile from the site, was also home alone at the time.
“I heard a big kaboom,” she said. “It woke me up. My windows were rattling. My house was shaking. It was an eerie feeling.
“It was dark outside. Then it was just light. I saw a big fire ball.”
Sandifer said she heard a similar loud noise, “like a bunch of helicopters about to crash into my house,” less than a week ago about 10 p.m.
“It rattled my windows,” she said. “When I looked, there was a cloud of smoke or gas, but no fire.”
During the 8:45 a.m. briefing Tuesday, Louisiana State Police Troop L spokesman Trooper First Class Nick Manale said the cause of the blast remains to be determined.
“Now there is no reason other than an accidental rupture,” he said.
Manale added that local, state and federal responders were on site and investigating.
Seal advised those in the area that the company was planning to “release more gas to get the residual out of the pipeline, so you may hear more explosions.”
“I don’t know how long that will take,” he said. “It could be an hour or the rest of the day.”
Nearby residents were not the only ones affected by the blast.
Coylean Schloegel, WST manager of marketing and economic development, said more than 10,000 Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative members were without power at the height of the explosion.
Most of those outages were in Washington Parish, and a few were in St. Tammany Parish, near the Folsom area.
Members lost power around 5:30 a.m., and everyone in Washington Parish was back up within the hour.
The Springhill and Holton substations, located near the area of the explosion, were affected, but both are back in service, she said late Tuesday morning.
About 400 Cleco customers in Mt. Hermon and Clifton and along the Enon highway also lost power, spokesperson Robbyn Cooper said. The outage started at 5:30 a.m., and all customers’ had power restored by 5:55 a.m., she said.
Cooper the outage was a result of an issue at the Entergy transmission substation used to supply power to the company’s customers.
Entergy spokesman Philip Allison said that company recorded a seven-minute power outage at approximately 5:30 a.m., but that he is not sure it was related to the explosion.
A representative of Florida Gas said late Tuesday morning the company had no comment on the incident “at this time.”
The Enon explosion was the third industrial explosion in Louisiana in a week. All remain under investigation.