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10 May, 2009 09:48

Gas blast and inferno rocks Moscow

A powerful blast has hit a gas pipeline in the west of Moscow, causing a massive fire which has spread across eight hundred square metres. People in different parts of the capital have witnessed the massive fire.

A natural gas line leading to a petrol station on Ozernaya Street had exploded, spreading across eight hundred square meters. Reaching almost 300 metres into the sky, the fire could be seen from almost any point in the city.

As dawn broke on a cloudless day over Moscow, a black plume of smoke could be seen over the city, but the fire was finally dying down. Traffic has resumed and people are going about their business this Sunday.

Despite the terrifying size of the blaze, no one was killed in the incident. But five people who were driving by as the fire erupted received burn injuries. Doctors say there's no threat to their lives. Over a dozen cars have been damaged.

All in all, things could have been a lot worse.

“If the fire hadn't broken out immediately after the gas leak, the gas could have accumulated in a big cloud, then the blast would have been far more serious,” said the Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who quickly arrived on the scene. Emergency Minister Sergey Shoigu was also there.

The lack of serious casualties was also in part due to the good fortune that it was a holiday weekend in Russia so traffic was light. Otherwise, it could have been a much worse scenario.

Dozens of fire teams were involved to contain the blaze and prevent its spreading to nearby building and structures, including the petrol station and a car shop. The temperature in the surrounding 300-500 metres was very high. The nearest residential buildings are 500-700 metres away and were out of danger, but many of their inhabitants chose to leave their places for a while.

A nearby three-storey building that was under construction did catch fire, but it has now been put out.

Eyewitnesses' comments

According to eyewitnesses, the blast occurred just past midnight preceded by a loud thunder of unknown origin. It came out of nowhere, lighting up Moscow's skyline for hours. Those who live nearby were terrified.

People who saw it from a distance believed it to be another firework show commemorating Victory Day, but there was no doubt in the minds of residents near the site of the blast.

Nikolay Ruzanov, one of the eyewitnesses, has shared his impressions with RT.

"There was a very bright flash, which appeared from nowhere, and covered all the area, all my apartment – everything. And then, in two or three seconds, there was a huge blast. My windows were trembling, everything was sort of blowing out, and I couldn’t realize what I should do, what my next step was going to be, whether I was dying, and what was going on," the man said.

Late at night, people who were out celebrating were stopping by to take a look at this tremendous effort of the emergency services, as they fought throughout the night, trying to put out the inferno.

Energy disaster avoided

Moscow's Mayor Yury Luzhkov believes the accident could have been the result of human error.

“As for preliminary estimations, this gas blast is a 99% man-made catastrophe. The main task was to save people. But what is most important is that we managed to avoid an energy disaster,” said the mayor.

Despite that, phone lines were cut in the fire-hit area, affecting over 80,000 people.

At first, it was believed a gas station was at the centre of the inferno, but then it became clear the flames were coming from a gas pipe. If the petrol station had caught fire too, the outcome could have been tragic.

“We think it was probably a burst gas pipe. It's not the gas facility building that is on fire, but the pipe which is situated along the road,” said Dmitry Palitsky of the Emergency Ministry.

Ecological authorities had said there was no threat to the environment. The gas was natural, and it leaves no pollution while burning.

The fire has already been called Moscow’s worst in the past 64 years.

The causes of the explosion remain undetermined and are being investigated. The intentional targeting of the pipeline has not been ruled out, though human error is a more likely cause of the explosions than is an act of terrorism, notes officials.