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14 dead in India pipeline blast

A state-owned gas pipeline exploded early Friday, killing at least 14 people and sparking a massive fire that destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of neighboring villages in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, authorities said.

Vandana Chanana, a top official of the state-run Gas Authority of India Ltd, said 14 people died and 15 others were injured in the fire following the explosion in the pipeline in Nagaram village in the state's East Godavari district.

"The fire has been extinguished now and rescue operations are on," Chanana said.

The injured had been taken to nearby hospitals where doctors said the condition of at least four of them was critical, company officials said.

Andhra Pradesh Home Minister N. Chinna Rajappa said the explosion occurred at about 5:30 a.m. in Nagaram, the site of a connecting station for the gas company.

The explosion sent flames shooting up into the pre-dawn sky. The fire burned for more than three hours before it was brought under control, Rajappa said.

"The extent of damage is being assessed," he said.

Company officials said it was too early to say what could have caused the blast.

Residents of neighboring villages were evacuated to safer areas, said East Godavari district collector Neetu Kumari Prasad.

The GAIL pipeline supplies gas to Godavari Fertilizer Co. and Nagarjuna Fertilizer Co.

Nagaram village is about 560 kilometers (350 miles) east of the state capital, Hyderabad.