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Columbia Gas pledges to make things right in Springfield

  • In a Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 photo, Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Mazza holds at a news conference in Springfield, Mass., a section of pipe containing holes punctured by a probe used by a Columbia Gas employee searching for a gas leak in Springfield, Mass., Friday.  The punctured high-pressure line lead to a natural gas explosion that injured more than 20 people and damaged 42 buildings in Springfield's entertainment district.  (AP Photo/Springfield Republican, Michael Beswick)

    In a Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 photo, Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Mazza holds at a news conference in Springfield, Mass., a section of pipe containing holes punctured by a probe used by a Columbia Gas employee searching for a gas leak in Springfield, Mass., Friday. The punctured high-pressure line lead to a natural gas explosion that injured more than 20 people and damaged 42 buildings in Springfield's entertainment district. (AP Photo/Springfield Republican, Michael Beswick) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Inspectors assess damage Saturday around the area of a gas explosion in  Springfield on Friday evening. The president of Columbia Gas Co. said Monday it would do whatever is necessary "to get things back to normal as soon as possible." (AP Photo)

    Inspectors assess damage Saturday around the area of a gas explosion in Springfield on Friday evening. The president of Columbia Gas Co. said Monday it would do whatever is necessary "to get things back to normal as soon as possible." (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

  • In a Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 photo, Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Mazza holds at a news conference in Springfield, Mass., a section of pipe containing holes punctured by a probe used by a Columbia Gas employee searching for a gas leak in Springfield, Mass., Friday.  The punctured high-pressure line lead to a natural gas explosion that injured more than 20 people and damaged 42 buildings in Springfield's entertainment district.  (AP Photo/Springfield Republican, Michael Beswick)
  • Inspectors assess damage Saturday around the area of a gas explosion in  Springfield on Friday evening. The president of Columbia Gas Co. said Monday it would do whatever is necessary "to get things back to normal as soon as possible." (AP Photo)

Friday’s explosion in downtown Springfield destroyed a strip club and damaged about 40 other buildings, including some with a total of more than 100 residential units.

The gas company and rescue workers had evacuated nearby buildings after they realized the line had been breached, and no one was killed in the ensuing explosion.

On Monday, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts president Stephen Bryant was in the city, about 90 miles west of Boston, where affected residents filed damage claims at a temporary office in City Hall. He said he’s most troubled about those left homeless.

“If you don’t have a place, a refuge to go home to, it’s extra difficult,” he said. “We’ve impacted businesses, and I think we’ll do all the things necessary to get things back to normal as soon as possible.”

The state fire marshal has attributed the explosion to human error, saying a gas company worker looking for a leak accidentally breached the line with a metal tool used to poke holes in the ground, causing a gas buildup that later ignited in the building housing the Scores Gentleman’s Club.

The sound and smell immediately alerted the worker that he’d breached the line, and he called rescue workers and began instructing people in nearby buildings, a gas company spokeswoman said.

A federally mandated valve allowing a quick shutoff was nearby, but the worker didn’t have a tool needed to blow away debris so the valve could be used, spokeswoman Sheila Doiron said.

That’s a problem because state regulations require the valves to be accessible, including keeping them clear of debris, said Mark McDonald, president of the New England Gas Workers Association, a legislative and public safety group.

The breached gas line was a plastic pipe that the company inserted into an aging metal pipe in 1993, Doiron said. The method avoids digging up the street, and the plastic is the same material almost universally used on gas lines today, she said.

The maintenance and inspection records of the plastic pipe will be part of a review by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, a department spokeswoman said.

On Beacon Hill, Gov. Deval Patrick said he sees no need for new laws in the wake of the explosion, which injured more than 20 people.

“This was human error,” he said, “and there’s but so much that legislation or regulation can do to prevent that.”

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