Pipeline Explosion Kills 10 Campers in N.M.

Bobby Smith, 43, and his daughter-in-law, Amanda Smith, 25, survived. Amanda Smith was Terry Smith’s wife and the mother of Kirsten Sumler.

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Balderston said the area is not a developed camping area, but is popular with area residents because it provides easy access to the Pecos River.

“They were there to enjoy the shade the bridge offered,” Balderston said.

The pipeline was 5 to 6 feet underground at the rupture point, El Paso Natural Gas Co. spokeswoman Norma Dunn said today.

“It is an absolute mystery right now as to why that blew,” Balderston said. Dunn added that investigators may never be able to say what sparked it.

“We saw a large ball of flames,” Balderston said. “The fire department was able to find six people in the river, walking, west of the incident.”

Dunn said the bridge carries the pipeline across the river. The pipeline then goes underground, and the explosion occurred on the east side of the river, she said.

The explosion occurred in an area where the pipeline crosses the river. It is isolated and unpopulated, with the surrounding terrain dotted with scrub and creosote. Amid the desolate surroundings today sat the broken and blackened pipeline.

Could Have Been Anything

Dunn said the explosion could have been touched off by anything — from a spark generated by rocks striking each other, someone lighting a cigarette or coal from a barbecue.

The pipeline supplies gas to power plants in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, she said. Somerholder said crews were working today to get the line back in service because it is a major supply line.

Somerholder said the line was installed in 1950, but said there did not appear to be any correlation between the age of the pipeline and the explosion.

“Most of our pipelines in this age range are in very good shape,” he said.

Dunn said the line was last checked Aug. 2.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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