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Cause of Audrain County gas line rupture unknown

The cause of a massive natural gas pipeline fire in Audrain County just north of Mexico remained unknown Sunday morning, a spokeswoman for the pipeline company said.

The rupture happened about 1 mile north of Mexico along Highway 15, the Audrain County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook a little after 5 a.m.

Authorities at the scene said a construction site near the blast was destroyed. The pipeline is owned by Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Co., Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers at the scene said.

Panhandle has an office with a Centralia address and supplies natural gas from the Oklahoma panhandle to Indiana and Ohio. Panhandle is owned by Energy Transfer Partners, which is headquartered in Dallas.

“Then you hear the noise, it was unbelievable,” said Denise Dorsey, a witness. “It was just a scary sight.”

Pipeline spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the fire was out before 9 a.m. The rupture and fire left several homes without power and the company is working to find a place to stay for those affected by the outage. The company was not doing any work on the line before the explosion, she said.

Ameren Missouri’s outage map showed seven customers in that area without power Sunday morning.

Ameren’s director of Missouri gas operations, Pam Harrison, said service to natural gas customers in the Mexico area is not affected at this time.

“Ameren Missouri will continue to monitor the situation,” she said.

The Audrain County Sheriff’s Office in a Facebook update said law enforcement made sure the immediate area around the rupture was free of people while fire crews tried to get to the rupture. The gas burned off and extinguished after about 40 minutes, the office said.

Highway 15 remained closed mid-Sunday morning while crews evaluate the road and replace utility poles and lines, the sheriff’s office said. Drivers should use Highway 22, Route E and Route T to detour around the closure.

The call came over the scanner shortly after 3:30 a.m.

The company has a history of regulatory issues, according to media reports and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and U.S. Department of Transportation documents.

Panhandle’s owner had its permit reviews suspended last month by Pennsylvania regulators after the company failed to comply with orders after an explosion last fall.

A 30-inch Panhandle Eastern pipeline ruptured in Pettis County north of Hughesville in November 2013. The area was evacuated but no one was injured.

Panhandle was fined about $92,000 in 2013 for having too much pressure in the pipeline at Centertown in Cole County and in Auburn, Illinois. The company was fined $180,000 in 2008 for a 2006 pipeline rupture that led to no human injuries but the deaths of farm animals.

Numerous police and firefighters were blocking roads in northern Mexico, an ABC 17 News reporter at Western and Pearson streets in north Mexico said. Flames could be seen from several miles away.

The Missouri Department of Transportation’s traveler information map showed Highway 15 was closed north of Mexico until further notice because of damage from a natural gas line.

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