LUBBOCK (AP) — Two workers removing clay from a pit in a remote part of the Texas Panhandle were killed when a natural gas line exploded, a sheriff said Tuesday.
The blast near Darrouzett, about 270 miles northeast of Lubbock, was the second fatal natural gas explosion in Texas in as many days. On Monday, a worker was killed when a utility crew accidentally hit and ruptured a natural gas line in rural Johnson County, about 50 miles southwest of Dallas.
The blast Tuesday involved a crew that was removing caliche — commonly used in cement — for a dirt-contracting company, Lipscomb County Sheriff James Robertson said in a news release. The explosion happened when a bulldozer struck a pipeline.
Robertson did not release the men's names because next of kin had not been notified. He declined to identify their employer.
Three other workers were injured. One was taken by helicopter to a Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City, where a hospital spokeswoman said he was in critical condition. Two others escaped with injuries that were not considered life-threatening.
The owner of the 14-inch pipeline, Denver-based DCP Midstream, allowed the fire to burn itself out about four hours after the incident, spokeswoman Roz Elliott said. She said the pipeline fed one of the company's processing plants.
The area where the blast occurred is a few miles from the Oklahoma border.
Rhonda Cochran said she could see the blaze as she was driving from Booker to her home in Darrouzett.
"They were huge," she told the Amarillo Globe-News. "I was eight miles away from Darrouzett. You could see the flames."
The crew involved in Monday's explosion worked for Oklahoma-based C&H Power Line Construction Services and was drilling a hole for an 80- to 120-foot utility pole. Fred Haag, the company's chief operating officer, said the crew followed the proper procedures in locating the line before digging. It used a survey map and made calls verifying the line location, he said.
Authorities identified the man killed in that blast as James Robert Neese, 45, of Ramona, Okla. His body was found Monday night about 600 feet from the explosion site after authorities deemed the charred area safe enough to do a thorough search.
At least seven of the other 13 workers who had been close to the site were treated at hospitals, mostly for burns to their necks and arms as they ran away from the massive fireball, Haag said. Only one worker remained hospitalized Tuesday, he said.
"Some of the guys heard it from a distance," Haag said Tuesday. "There was an explosion of flames and everybody started running."
Several of Neese's relatives also work for C&H, including his brother who was at the site Monday but was not injured.
"James was a beloved, hardworking father who always put his family first," his wife, Lavonne Neese, said in a written statement.
Neese, who has several children and stepchildren, recently welcomed a new baby with his wife, Haag said.
"It's hard because we're a fairly small company and close-knit," Haag said. "His crew was like a family to him, and he watched them like a mother hen."
After investigators finish looking over the site, workers will repair the ruptured pipeline, which is expected to take several days, said Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners LP, which partially owns the 36-inch-diameter line. It is a 395-mile segment of a pipeline extending from western to eastern Texas, the company said in a Tuesday news release.
Associated Press Writer Angela K. Brown in Cleburne contributed to this report.