Fire At Natural Gas Station Contained in Storm-Battered Tennessee

No one was killed in a huge explosion at a natural gas pumping plant that was apparently slammed by a tornado, a company spokesman said Wednesday.

There was no one working at the Columbia Gulf Transmission Co. plant when it erupted Tuesday night and sent flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air, said Brent Archer, a spokesman for Houston-based Nisource Gas Transmission.

The plant in Hartsville, about 50 miles northeast of Nashville, apparently took a direct hit by a tornado, Archer said.

Firefighters managed to contain the massive fire early Wednesday.

Customers were not affected because unseasonably warm temperatures meant few people were using gas heat, Archer said.

The same warm temperatures helped contribute to a violent line of storms and tornadoes that swept across the South, killing at least 48 people, 24 of them in Tennessee.

Westmoreland Mayor Ricky Woodard said the fire was about seven miles away from his city and had spread to houses nearby.

Ashley Beff, who lives about five miles from the plant, said she witnessed the explosion and said it caused the windows in her apartment to shake violently.

"It was God awful," she said. "It was like an explosion. The city looked like it was on fire."

Kelly Merritt, a spokesman for Columbia, said the company shut off the gas on both sides of the station, which is used to boost pressure along the gas line that runs from Louisiana to the West Virginia-Kentucky line.