Pipeline Explosion Kills 10 Campers in N.M.

ByABC News
August 19, 2000, 11:00 PM

Aug. 20 -- Federal, state and local authorities are investigating the cause of Saturdays natural gas pipeline explosion that killed five adults and five children and left two other people in critical condition in southeast New Mexico.

The victims, members of two extended families, were camping early Saturday morning near the Pecos River, about 200 to 300 yards from the below-ground explosion.

The two adult survivors were in critical condition in a Lubbock, Texas hospital.

The 30-inch pipeline exploded around 5:30 a.m. Saturday, and left a crater about 86 feet long, 46 feet wide and 20 feet deep. Police say the resulting fire probably lasted 30 to 40 minutes. It reportedly was visible about 20 miles to the north in Carlsbad, N.M.

Virtual Flamethrower

Authorities said one end of the ruptured line became a virtual flame-thrower, showering fire on the victims camped beneath a bridge about 200 yards away.

The evidence out there at the scene indicates it was horrendously hot, State Police Capt. John Balderston said. It incinerated everything in its path. If it burned for as long as we think it burned, that explains the extensive damage to the vehicles and to the property and people.

Ive never seen anything like this, he added. Weve had some tragedies but this is the worst Ive seen.

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board is on the scene, and Gov. Gary Johnson is to tour the site later today.

Pipeline Co. Sees No Foul Play

John Somerhalder, president of the pipeline group of El Paso Energy, the parent company of El Paso Natural Gas Co., says his company is cooperating fully with investigators. But he adds he believes the explosion was an accident.

We saw no indication there was third party damage or foul play, Somerhalder said. It is, was a very major tragedy that occurred [Saturday], and it occurred as a result of a rupture of one of our pipelines.