West Virginia Gas Station Blast Ruled Accidental

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West Virginia Gas Station Blast Ruled Accidental

GHENT, W. Va. -- A state investigation determined that the propane explosion at the Flat Top Little General Store, located here, was an accident, yet its trigger remains unknown, state officials told The Associated Press last week.

The state investigation of the explosion last Tuesday that leveled the gas station, causing four deaths and leaving five seriously injured is complete, according to state Homeland Security director Jimmy Gianato. A federal investigation is ongoing.

The ignition source cold not be identified because the damage was so extensive, said Gianato, noting that there were several potential sources.

"The accident raises possible issues of local and national significance, and the community rightly expects a better understanding of just what occurred on Tuesday to cause such a devastating loss of life," Carolyn W. Merritt, chair of the U.S. Chemical and Safety Board, said in a statement. The safety board is still investigating, the AP reported.

As CSNews Online reported Wednesday, all that was left of the Flat Top Little General Store after Tuesday's propane blast was a pile of splintered debris, twisted metal framework and a sign showing the price of gasoline. The blast shattered windows up to a mile away and toppled a fire truck, while candy and food wrappers were found in trees more than 200 yards away, published reports stated.

"The best way to explain that for you is to imagine an explosion in your home and when you walk back up to your home the only thing you see is toothpicks," said state Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis at the time.

Four of those injured Tuesday were at Cabell Huntington Hospital on Wednesday and one was at Charleston Area Medical Center, said Celeste Hinzman, spokeswoman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Two of the injured were upgraded from critical to serious condition earlier last week and upgraded again to fair condition on Friday, according to published reports. The women were both store employees working at the time of the explosion. Two other women that were working at the Godfather's Pizza inside the store remain in critical condition, the report stated. Another victim, a volunteer firefighter present at the blast scene, is still in critical condition at Charles Area Medical Center.

The explosion occurred about 10:50 a.m. Tuesday as emergency workers were investigating a report of a propane leak, he said. The victims included a building inspector, emergency medical technician and a volunteer firefighter, according to the AP report.

Lewis said store employees were working on an above-ground tank capable of holding 500 pounds of propane. However, that tank and the store's underground gasoline tanks did not explode. "It is our initial thought that the fumes entered into the building and had to have an ignition point," Lewis said, adding that cold temperatures would have kept the gas close to the ground.