[ RadSafe ] Unexpected events (was: Indian Point License extension.)

Clayton J Bradt CJB01 at health.state.ny.us
Fri Dec 30 12:56:53 CST 2011

The good people of Fort Edward, NY could tell us all something about 
unexpected hazards:

Underground explosions from fuel leak force evacuations in Fort Edward

Updated 11:04 p.m., Wednesday, December 28, 2011 
FORT EDWARD ? Lying on his back after the force from an underground blast 
roared up through a manhole, launching him 5 feet away and next to a row 
of hedges, Kevin Stimpson stared dazed into the dark, cloudy sky.

Raindrops drummed down as he gathered his thoughts. The swift, percussive 
booms of another half-dozen explosions rippled through the air. Flames 
shot out from the sewers and into the night. People emptied their homes in 
a frenzy, many screaming and running. It was just after 8 p.m. Tuesday. 
Throughout town, panic was settling in.

"It was like a military plane flew overhead and was dropping bombs on us," 
Stimpson said. "I just thought 'How are we going to stop this?' It was 
like a war zone. No one knew what was really going on."

Unbeknown to the riverside Washington County town, a massive gasoline leak 
at a gas station in Hudson Falls had seeped into the sewage drains and 
traveled downstream. Somewhere along its route, the fuel ignited near Fort 
Edward, sparking a series of underground explosions that tore through 
manholes across town. 

The force of the blasts launched more than a dozen manhole covers into the 
air. Weighing 150 pounds apiece, the covers were impossible to track in 
black sky. Several were found more than 300 feet from where they took off, 
some shattered into pieces. Others remained missing as of Tuesday 

"If it hit somebody, it would kill you," said Fort Edward Public Safety 
Director William Cook. "There's no question about that."

Stimpson, the town's highway superintendent, was the only person injured: 
He twisted his knee when he fell to the ground. 

Though the estimated two dozen explosions came and went in less than 10 
minutes, a sense of fear paralyzed the town for the rest of the night. 
More than 400 people were evacuated from their homes. Around 200 took 
shelter at Fort Edward High School, the district dispatching school buses 
to shuttle those displaced.

The gas leak was contained quickly and no other explosions were triggered. 
Everyone was allowed to return home by 6 a.m.

Stimpson heard the first two explosions while sitting with his wife and 
daughter inside their Liberty Street home. He walked south to the nearby 
intersection of Keating Avenue and Washington Street and saw a stream of 
fire rip 20 feet into the air. Five seconds later, he turned toward St. 
Joseph's Montessori School and saw another. He took two steps back.

"I couldn't see it, but there was a sewage drain right in the middle of 
the road," Stimpson said. "It just blew up and blew right off the road. 
The sound was horrendous."

After recollecting his bearings, Stimpson ran down the sides of the 
streets and screamed at people to get away from the roads. 

"There were some very tense moments," said Hudson Falls police chief Randy 
Diamond. "All things considering, we really lucked out."

Diamond said the gas leak was triggered by a ruptured pipe at the 
Cumberland Farms on the corner of Route 4 and Elm Street. Surveillance 
footage shows a car backing into the damaged pump around 8 p.m., said 
Diamond, who added that the external damage to the pump was so minor that 
the driver may not have noticed it was hit. 

Diamond said his department would not consider pressing any charges until 
they located and spoke with the driver. He said an emergency mechanism to 
close the pump failed, but may have been damaged when it was struck by the 

The Cumberland Farms was closed Wednesday. Calls to the company were not 

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said 1,200 gallons of 
fuel spilled, enough to carry a jet from Albany to Philadelphia.

The gas traveled for more than two miles down to the Fort Edward Waste 
Water Treatment Plant on Route 4, according to the Department of 
Environmental Conservation. The DEC and other independent spill crews were 
working Wednesday to clean the site. It will take days until they are 

Those who live around the gas station said they did not know what was 
going on until they turned on their computers or the evening news. 

Siobhan Goe, who lives on Elm Street in Hudson Falls, was on her way home 
from work when the blasts occurred. Goe had to take a detour around Fort 
Edward and her street was blocked off. Though Goe said she thought the 
explosions were thunder, she was concerned.

"It was scary because no one knew what was going on," she said.

Goe found out about the gas leak when she logged onto Facebook and read 
updates. After finding out the spill was on her street, she packed a bag 
in case she had to evacuate. She was never asked to leave her home.

People who were not evacuated were told to stay inside for their own 
protection. Stimpson's wife, Michelle, said the explosions caused her 
toilets to burst. She fled her home with her daughter.

"It was like Armageddon in the streets," Michelle Stimpson said. "I never 
want to live through that again." 

The majority of the manhole explosions were around the area of Broadway, 
Liberty and Washington Streets. One explosion on Satterlee Lane, a narrow 
dead end just off Broadway, was powerful enough to shatter all the windows 
of an adjacent home and crack lengthy fault lines down the road. The 
explosion carved a crater more than 6 feet wide into the pavement. 

Cook, the Fort Edward Public Safety director, said he was standing nearby 
and saw the flames by Satterlee Lane shoot out more than 15 feet into the 

What sparked the explosions may never be known, Cook said.

In 2008, a series of similar explosions in Troy were sparked by a 
shorted-out underground wire. Cook said any number of things, from an 
electrical spark to simply too much pressure building up in the sewers 
could have caused the explosions.

"When the gas comes out, it meets a certain concentration. When the 
numbers are just right and it finds the ignition source, you get the 
explosion," Cook said. "Once it finds what it's looking for ... boom."

Read more: 

At least the people in Fort Edward can rest easy at night knowing that 
they live 150 miles from Indian Point!

Have a Happy New Year everybody!  (but don't stand too close to any 

Clayton J. Bradt
Principal Radiophysicist
NYS Dept. of Health
Biggs Laboratory, Room D486A
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12201-0509


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